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Betraying the Magic

One week before last Christmas, the US State Department fast-tracked four European Bank for Reconstruction and Development projects in Serbia, which consisted of a loan to HVB Banka Serbia; an equity investment in Syntaxis Mezzanine Fund I; an equity investment in South Eastern Energy Capital; and a loan to Danube Group Holding of Serbia, which holds a stake in JKR Natural Resource BV.

The State Department claims that these particular investments "will contribute to a stronger and more integrated economy in the Balkans." Therefore, Section 561 of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act was suspended. Section 561 would have prevented US executive directors of the EBRD from voting in favor of these initiatives because of the Serbian government's noncompliance with the Hague Tribunal.

Why is the United States so eager to fund these projects?

The first of these projects, as Andrea Crandall, writing in the July issue of Chronicles, explains, is a subsidy to HVB Banka Serbia, a subsidiary of Bank Austria Creditanstalt, the fourth-largest bank in Austria and the operator of the largest international network of banks in Eastern Europe. The second of the projects will shovel a minimum of 25 million Euros into an equity fund headquartered in tax-shelter Guernsey, for the purposes of

...building institutions; developing local fund managers; restructuring local companies; and finding new ways of financing local companies.

The third project will acquire a ten-percent stake in SENCAP, a partnership of the largest Greek energy concern and American corporation Contour-Global; proceeds from the investment will be utilized to

...acquire other energy resources in Serbia, as well as in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Rumania, and the UN Interim Administration in Kosovo.

Fascinating: Western governments enabling private Western companies to lock up energy reserves in southeastern Europe. The free market has triumphed! All hail neoliberalism!

Finally, the fourth project will enable JKR Natural Resource BV, a Dutch concern specializing in construction and maintenance, to acquire competitors in Serbia and to consolidate existing holdings. In other words,

...NATO power-players are handing out tax-guaranteed loans to buddy companies in order to rebuild the Serbian infrastructure NATO destroyed.

Moreover, as Crandall elaborates, these projects are but stepping stones to a larger ambition: Serbia's EPS (Elektroprivreda Srbije, Electric Power Industry of Serbia) and NIS (Naftna Industrija Srbije, Oil Industry of Serbia) are likely to be subjected to rapid, shades-of-Russia privatization in the near future. Western multinationals and financiers will be able to exert a controlling influence upon the energy, industrial, and commercial sectors of southeastern Europe. And herein lies the rub: why would any patriot of any one of these nations wish for the resources and economy of his nation, his people, to be owned and/or controlled by foreigners, for their interests? Unless, of course, he were in on the arrangements, particularly the lucrative primitive accumulation of state assets, in which case, scratch the 'patriot' part.

This is the "magic" Russia "betrayed", to her credit and current responsibility to her people, and the ire of the US and Britain, especially. Americans may find this difficult of comprehension, what with the widespread insouciance concerning Chinese - to take but one example; we could talk about the Saudis, too - ownership of American assets, monetary and productive; then again, Americans often seem to be a post-patriotic, post national people anyway.

Comments (46)

Does the common man (Serbian or Russian) benefits or losses from foreigners taking over the ownership and management of his country's natural resources?

While it is difficult to generalize, it appears to be the case the benefits are concentrated among a narrow stratum of political elites and fellow-travelers in the business sector. A relative handful of people will obtain jobs, but the principal difference is that a few people will achieve significant wealth.

Ultimately, in the minds of patriots of these nations, the issue is not one of quantity, of whether the average citizen may be said to be materially benefited, but of quality, of the fact that a degree of control over the resources in question has passed to foreigners. With this passage of control comes a corresponding increase in the influence of foreign powers over the political processes within the nation - which is ultimately the reason for Western governmental interest in these projects: money is power, power is money, and the two seem almost wholly fungible. The question concerns whether it is preferable to be - hypothetically - a well-fed dependent or a less-well off, but still independent, citizen.

I'm not upset about Saudi and Chinese control over U.S. interests because they're furriners. I'm upset because of who they are, because (e.g.) of the story about a Saudi prince who had the clout to get the word "Muslim" taken out of a story on Fox about terrorism, because of the spreading of wahabbism, etc. The Chinese, for the moment, appear to be doing less harm with their influence, but that a hefty chunk of the money is one way or another going to fund a communist army is no mean consideration.

I am not similarly bothered about Irish ownership of a plastics company in Cincinnati at which a friend of mine works. If they were spreading the IRA's ideology, that would, of course, be different.

Once again, it depends on who the "controllers" are. Moral distinctions must be made, not simply appeals to national identity and the dislike of foreign investment.

I'm honestly not sure that I have that much sympathy for a Serbian who would rather starve than be a "dependent" of supposedly horrible Western multinationals. We really must have a sense of perspective about all of these things and about _how bad_ the various alternatives really are.

I meant to ask: I'm not familiar with the "betraying the magic" allusion. Did somebody say this about something Russia is doing now? Who was it, and what did he say? I'd be interested in a link, because I'd like to see the other side of the argument spelled out.

Again, though, there is the appearance of this false dichotomy: either those Eastern Europeans, those benighted Orthodox, must accept the economic and political domination of Western multinationals and governments, or they will starve. Are they children, infants, for whom the tutelage of the better part of mankind is requisite lest they perish? The condescension is exquisite.

Several factors are in play: first, the fact that it is objectively preferable, from the standpoint of the development of the capacities and excellences involved, whether individually or culturally, to raise oneself than to depend upon the ministrations of others; second, that by the nature of the case the dependence of an economy upon multinationals limits this future development; third, that this dependency is an instrument of Western interventionist or hegemonist foreign policy, itself morally dubious; and fourth, that this relationship of submission and dominance enkindles hostilities and resentments poorly conducive to enduring comity. In other words, the nature of the meddling, and the identity of the meddlers, is not a sufficient criterion for judging legitimacy; there are also the degree or extent of the meddling (or simple foreign direct investment) and its effects upon the targeted nation to consider, along with the intended (in terms of the acts chosen and performed, not merely wished for) objects of the meddling, and the moral status of such policies themselves. Is it licit for one nation to dominate, control, or even openly subjugate the economy, and therewith the political process, of another nation? If so, why is this licit? Because someone makes a lot of money in the process? Money legitimates all? - because this is really the only answer apologists have ever articulated, once folderol concerning illusory geopolitical threats has been stripped from the discussion. So yes, it is not really a big deal that an Irish company operates some concern in Ohio; however, if this sort of thing becomes a defining trend - and this is always a prudential judgment - then it will become injurious to the long-term common good of the nation. And yes, the Chinese and Saudi cases are prima facie distinct from the Irish case, owing to the anture of the regime; it does not follow from this distinction that the former type of investment and control can never become problematic.

In other words, the situation requires yet more moral distinctions than those of regime types.

The 'betraying the magic' allusion, so far as I am aware, originated with The Black Earth, a work of travelogue and socio-cultural reportage I read earlier this year. I'll try to look up the precise context for the allusion.

Very briefly, I wasn't implying anything about anybody's being benighted or needing help from some particular other type of person (e.g. benighted Orthodox needing help from Western business). But I do think that when either individuals, cities, or nations are in some sort of dire physical or economic straits, they may need some sort of financial help. And investing is, prima facie, less patronizing then just handing out aid. If anything, it may be that the Western nations feel some sort of responsibility to Serbia because of the military meddling before.

What baffles me again and again is the air of outrage and of having discovered something nefarious going on. "Ah, ha! Western politicians conspiring to subjugate Serbia to their pals in Western business!" All the language of participating in degradation (from the other thread), subjugation, and so forth, and the unmistakable implication in both threads that this is something Western businessmen *ought not* to do. That they are doing wrong. I can't see it on its face. Maybe there's some specific and crucial fact I just don't know.

I can't see it on its face. Maybe there's some specific and crucial fact I just don't know.

Any decent community will oppose absentee ownership. Generally that kind of ownership is just strip-mining the local community. Such ownership is always promoted by the elites who benefit. You'll find those elites to be deracinated globalists, likely as not.

Oppose absenteee ownership how far? I think there's a dilemma here for the perspective articulated here: Either the Serbians are in really dire straits, or they aren't. If the former, then I maintain--until I'm shown that there's something more bad going on here than foreign investment--that it would be sheer ideology ("no foreign ownership of _our_ industries at any cost") to oppose the plan proposed. If the latter, and the Serbians are willing to go along with this plan anyway, then why accuse the Western businessmen of taking advantage, exploiting, arm-twisting, or doing something wrong? Willing seller, willing buyer. I see no harm being done. Unless we want to start arguing that it's *intrinsically evil* for foreign businesses to have ownership or to be allowed even substantial ownership of another country's assets. And that's going to be a hard thing to sell. Ideological, in fact.

I haven't been able to locate the reference in The Black Earth to the betrayal of the magic; however, the allusion was essentially to the feeling among Western economists and FP wonks that Russia, following the crisis of 1998, had failed to persist in the shock therapy liberalization, had, that is, turned away from the End of History magic of neoliberalism and The Market. In other words, Russia just denied someone's myth, that's all.

The important facts that you're missing are the numerous foreign policy declarations, made by members of the political and intellectual establishments, to the effect that America is the indispensable, universal nation, a nation that will discourage all potential peer competitors and regional rivals, and will organize the global politico-economic architecture to promote openness (free flows of capital, goods, services, and labour), in the conviction that openness not only increases overall prosperity but ensures the pre-eminence of the US. Other important facts are the flagrant contradictions between stated neoliberal ideology and the actual practice of American foreign policy: instead of autonomous, self-regulating markets, we find politically backed economic activities intended to entrench multinationals in weak states, the cultivation of political ties with corrupt local elites (Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia ... and don't even bother me about these things, since I have family who can dish the dirt on just what sort of men we installed in power in those bathetic colour revolutions), most of whom are actually unpopular, and a curious emphasis upon precisely those economic sectors most useful for the exertion of political influence: energy and finance. Yes, so we have neoconservatives, neoliberals (which is to say, the two faces of Janus), and old establishment hacks like Kissenger, intoning the same pieties about the global order, advocating the same policies, putting the lie to exoteric ideology, propping up corrupt locals, and none of this means anything more than that noble businessmen want to help the poor, poor Serbs. Sure. And this is not even to delve into the ludicrous contradictions of American Balkan policy over the past 15 years.

The reality is that Djinjic, the Serbian president, is not only unpopular, but opposed in his machinations - both regarding acquiescence on Kosovo and Westernization - by majorities in Serbia, such that he finds it necessary to dissemble his every action in these regards; but no, it's just the ideologues who loathe the notion of foreign ownership, who would rather hunger than prosper in cooperation with others. Of course, one learns about these things from "suspect" sites such as Chronicles, so they can be disregarded. One mustn't think ill of the plutocrats, after all.

Really, how many times must the usual suspects speak of benevolent global hegemony before we regard their words seriously and expect them to issue in action?

I have, of course, already suggested that it is not the fact of foreign investment that is problematic, but its nature, character, extent, and tendency: Irish investment in a company or two means nothing; Saudi and Chinese investment rather more - one would think that the nefarious doings of these two regimes would indicate the restraints that such investments impose, but one would be mistaken, apparently. And given the history of American involvement in the Balkans - the arbitrary diktats, the double standards, the tendentiousness, the currying of favour with the Muslims - one has absolutely no reason not to work the sums on FP rhetoric, policy formulation, political action, and derive an intent. This is scarcely a matter of ideology, but of knowledge of crude realpolitik, or what I call mammonpolitik, the prominence of corporate interests in the formulation and implementation of US policy, in the service of a well-articulated geostrategic design. Hence, "intrinsically evil" has nothing whatsoever to do with it; the judgment that these policies are illicit is an historical, circumstantial (that is, grounded in particular contexts), and prudential one: it is the nature and objects that are found wanting, not the bare, abstract fact of foreign investment. If anything, the unwillingness to grant that corporatism is a tool of American FP is far more ideological than the skepticism of Serbs, or any patriotic lot, of outsiders; it is their country, not ours, anyway, and again, they do not face a binary, manichaean choice between dire straits and the wonders of globalism. That is because no one does.

Incidentally, to make myself still more explicit: the Serbs are not willing to go along with any of this; a faction of their corrupt political elites is willing, just as was the case in Russia. Unless some theory (swindle) of consent is operative here, I see absolutely no reason to assume that because a handful of pols desire these policies, the Serbs as a people must also desire them. Would we ever say the same thing of America? Good God, I hope not.

So suppose corporate investment is indeed incorporated into American foreign policy. And suppose that there is this goal to maintain American preeminence by encouraging economic openness, just as you've said. I'm still looking for the wrongful act(s). Not the smoking gun so much as the specific, nameable action of a specific person (or actions of persons) that is _wrong_. After all, let's just suppose that the people you're citing really _believe_ that this is good for the prosperity of people all over the world. Then the economic policies they are proposing are supposed to have (at least) two effects--one to maintain American leadership globally and the other to make everybody better off. So even there, it isn't some sort of evil, cackling, "Let's subjugate the Whole World! Bwah, ha, ha, ha, ha..." sort of thing.

But more than the question of motive is the question of *what is being done* that is wrong. For example, it's wrong to set up these banking arrangements concerning the Balkans? That's morally wrong? It's wrong for some given businessman to get in on those arrangements and make a profit on them? Imagine yourself talking to some specific Western businessman. What, specifically, would you tell him he _ought not_ to do w.r.t. these proposed arrangements, and why?

Then the economic policies they are proposing are supposed to have (at least) two effects--one to maintain American leadership globally and the other to make everybody better off.

Except that it doesn't, as evidenced by the cases of Russia, Latin America (as evidence by the history of American politico-economic interventions, and by such recent failures as Argentina), and, I am certain, others. It increases stratification within the targeted nation, with all of the attendant socio-political tensions to which this gives rise, incorporates the nation into an American sphere of influence with may not coincide with the interests of that nation, whether perceived or objective, and - depending upon its extent and tendency - deprives the people of that nation of the capacity and opportunity to, you know, do things for themselves.

It is wrong for example - to take the most egregious of the examples in the Chronicles piece, to amass energy holdings in weak states as a means of exerting one's geopolitical influence. It is wrong because it disregards the sovereignty and integrity of the weaker nations and their cultures; it is wrong because concentrated wealth always begets concentrations of power, which are inimical to the 'democratic' self-government (or even self-government without the absurd modifiers) we profess to revere; it is wrong because it is deceitful and dissimulative, relying upon the noble lie of the democratic movement of the 'people' as a veil for the smoky back room; it is wrong because it both manifests and exacerbates the limitless hubris and avarice of a political and economic establishment which believes itself entitled; it is wrong because the policy of hegemony is wrong; it is wrong because it strengthens the stranglehold multinational business interests have on our political process; and it is wrong because the mammonpolitik of the American imperium subverts the foundations of a self-governing republican society, by multiplying the reach, responsibilities, and entanglements (legal, military, etc.) of our Republic.

These actions are not legitimated merely because some utterly pragmatic, incapable-of-philosophy businessman just sees an opportunity to "do well by doing good"; his subjective intention matters little, if at all. The objective intent, the actions undertaken, with all of their foreseen effects, objects, and consequences, define the morality of the policies. Again, it is simply wrong to pursue hegemony, whether one endeavours to do this by the sword, or by the purse. Hegemony is neither self-defense nor just war. I'll leave to the side the theoretical, abstract formulation of the problem for the present, concentrating on the Constitutional one - our Constitution was not made for an imperium, which is what these policies instantiate and diffuse throughout our spheres of influence.

Or perhaps, do unto other nations as you would have them do unto you - a principle not without exceptions, provided we ourselves are not conjuring the exceptions in order to rationalize our ideological fantasies and crass material interests.

So, specifically, I would counsel the capitalist class that they ought not implicate themselves in efforts to extend and justify the American imperium; although doing so would be akin to spitting in the wind, as the American empire has always been intertwined with corporate interests, and such relationships have always been integral to capitalism. If you find this absurd, that cannot be helped: when I avow that I believe in localism, and execrate empire, I mean it, and mean it for others, too.

So you actually mean that if you had the chance to talk to some specific businessman such as the one you imagine who thought this was an opportunity to "do well by doing good," you would tell him *not simply* that in point of fact it wouldn't really "do good" (which is at least in part an empirical question, though it also has to do with what we regard as "doing good") but also that he *morally ought not* invest in energy holdings in Serbia, that he would be committing a *moral wrong* if he did so, because that would be a form of hegemony, etc., etc., whether he has realized it before or not. Have I got that right?

Okay, a couple of additions: First, Chronicles was at most a mildly suspect source for me two weeks ago. Now, it's a much more suspect source. I think I'm pretty good at taking theses and arguments on their own terms.

Second, if I'm understanding you correctly, _even if_ the overall standard of living in Country B rose as a result of our hypothetical Country A businessman's investment in energy resources in Country B (which is presumably what he has in mind when he thinks of "doing good"), and _even if_ our hypothetical businessman were scrupulously honest with everyone involved, I gather you would still say that what he was doing was wrong if he invested, because it would bring about "too much" control by Country A businessmen over the resources of Country B. That's where I cannot agree. I cannot agree even if we build into the example that, yes, this guy's investment will indeed push the percentage of energy resources controlled by Country A businesses over such-and-such a level. And when it seems, if I've got you right, that you are putting such "dominance by the purse" in *anything like* the same category as "dominance by the sword"--that, in short, you're saying there's some highly important moral similarity between this businessman's investing in Country B's energy and his materially cooperating in sending an army over to invade and conquer Country B--then you've lost me altogether.

Hegemonism is either morally suspect or it is not. Localism and subsidiarity are either morally preferable, or they are not. If hegemonism is not morally suspect, and localism/subsidiarity are not morally valuable, than this entire conversation is absurd. So it seems to me that the imperative here is to formulate and defend an argument for hegemonism as a positive good. Curiously, no one really does this; hegemonism is defended as instrumental to various ideological and material interests, such as 'democracy', 'democratic capitalism', 'the American way of life', and so on.

Culpability is always proportionate to an actor's degree of knowledge; however, given the history of American involvement in the Balkans, the geopolitical ambitions to which that involvement was instrumental, the specific character of the investments, and the economically curious involvement of political bodies, few, if any, who will be involved on the Western end have illusions as to the objects of the policies. So, yes, if hegemonism is immoral, and that because it is violative of the goods of localism - goods requisite to human flourishing in its many dimensions - then a hypothetical businessman must be apprised of the fact that his cooperation in these ventures would be material cooperation with injustice.

That's where I cannot agree. I cannot agree even if we build into the example that, yes, this guy's investment will indeed push the percentage of energy resources controlled by Country A businesses over such-and-such a level.

And we have reached an argumentative impasse, because I cannot accept the notion that economic progress, however attained, and however structured, is self-justifying. If it is wrong or unjust for one nation to exercise control over the economy of another nation, and to manipulate the politics of that nation - which, given the history of American involvement in the region, is indubitably the object of the policies - then economic meliorism cannot transmute an injustice to a positive good. Do you propose to justify the exercise of economic power as a tool of geopolitical policy, where by the nature of the case, America is not acting in self-defense?

you are putting such "dominance by the purse" in *anything like* the same category as "dominance by the sword"

The relevant category is, "Illicit, hegemonic dominance, subjugation, or manipulation of weaker foreign powers"; that outright invasion and conquest - or even a NATO bombing campaign - is manifestly more unjust than the subtleties of mammonpolitik is irrelevant to the question of the injustice of hegemony itself, which is a matter of degrees, war being one extremity. Qualitative differences - of which there are many - do not obviate the similarities of dominance and manipulation; things can be qualitatively different in certain specifiable respects, yet fall under the same category.

Maximos said:

And we have reached an argumentative impasse, because I cannot accept the notion that economic progress, however attained, and however structured, is self-justifying.

Lydia, are you libertarian?

Maximos - I've been following your exchange with Lydia on this and the Russian thread for the last few days with the greatest interest, but sometimes I get really confused. Maybe this is as good a time as any to interject a couple of questions:

(1) You write that "Hegemonism is either morally suspect or it is not. Localism and subsidiarity are either morally preferable, or they are not."

At first glance, I find this claim very puzzling. It's sort of as if somebody had said that "City life is either morally suspect or it is not. Country living is either morally preferable, or it is not."

Well...I dunno. It depends, doesn't it? Partial as I may be my own green acres, I must admit that people can lead morally excellent lives in the city, and frightfully wicked lives in the country. City vs. Country just isn't a *morally* basic distinction.

And neither, so far as I can tell, is hegemonism vs. localism. Again, doesn't it all depend?

At one extreme, there's the hegemonism of Khrushchev vs. the localism of the Hungarian students in 1956. Go localism! At the other extreme, there's the hegemonism of the North Vietnamese vs. the localism of Pol Pot in 1979. Go hegemonism!

Somewhere in between is the hegemonism of NATO vs. the localism of Milošević in 1999, where reasonable opinions seem to differ.

Or am I just completely misunderstanding your distinction between hegemonism and localism?

(2)Is there any country in Eastern Europe (or anywhere else) that has managed the transition out of communism in a way that has won your approval, or that might have served as a better model for what you would have preferred to see in Russia and/or Serbia?


Well, I approve of making abortion completely illegal and even of vice laws against pornography and prostitution. I'm entirely against legal assisted suicide, I support many drug laws, and so on and so forth. I do not believe that people own their bodies. You get the picture. So the libertarians definitely would not issue me a membership card. Oh, I'm also against open borders, which some libertarians support as a matter of libertarian principle. I do not think that force and fraud are the only two categories of things that should be illegal.

However, when it comes to economic matters that have no direct relation to issues of social conservatism, I have many libertarian sympathies.

Maximos, I certainly don't hold that economic progress, however attained, is self-justifying. If a country bases its economic growth on the selling of slaves, for example, or even for that matter the selling of human cadavers, this is not self-justifying.

Steve's comments and questions are excellent.

I think the word "hegemony" is part of the problem. It makes anything so classified sound nasty by definition. Even "power" would be better, and "influence" more neutral still. If I have a job, my employer has a certain amount of power or influence over me. It does not follow that working for anybody else is by definition a relationship degrading to the employee.

However, when it comes to economic matters that have no direct relation to issues of social conservatism, I have many libertarian sympathies.

Hmm. It seems highly imprudent to think that there are economic matters with no direct relation to morality.

From this, I see:

In political philosophy [Liberalism's] mark is the reduction of all things to some strictly materialist standard, whether openly atheistic or more subtly economic. It collapses the mystery of Man’s dualistic nature. Christianity has taught us, in the common maxim, that man is in the world but not of it. Liberalism posits that he is emphatically of it; and by its logic even the worth of human life is made subject to the whims and calculations of worldly interest.

Maximos has been describing an example here where, I suppose, you think there is no direct relation to morality, or the relation is actually inverse of what we see it to be. While we see sinister forces at work, you see something benevolent!

It could be that you are guileless about these people. I might suggest in that case you stay clear of libertarian economists. Too often they subject morality "to the whims and calculations of worldly interest." They are part of What's Wrong with the World.

Gintas, that's why I put the word "direct" in there. The selling of, e.g., human bodies (live or dead) is in itself immoral. Its relation to morality is exceedingly clear. The relation of morality to the ownership by Western companies of Serbia's energy industry is, to say the least of it, less direct! Any sensible person should grant that. So, yes, of course I think there is no direct relation to morality.

That doesn't mean that I think things can never be wrong in virtue of their foreseen consequences. If you could show my hypothetical businessman (for whom Maximos appears to have such contempt, because he hopes to "do well by doing good") that his immediately contemplated act of investing in Serbia's energy industry will, through one of those weird convolutions of history, lead undeniably and with a very high degree of probability to all Serbian children's starving to death, then he shouldn't do it! That is just an example.

But it appears to me that y'all want to say his action would be immoral because it would likely lead to such consequences as political influence for Western companies (including businessmen like himself) in Serbia, because it would lead to the Serbians' not running their own energy industry, and the like. Well, these are not so dire as all that. That, no doubt, is part of where we disagree.

As to guilelessness, I suppose I might be guileless or naive about plenty of things. But at the same time, I've recognized many a libertarian thesis that I've disagreed with, and that includes the theses of paleolibertarians, who annoy me in a unique way. I can recall distinctly quietly dropping my subscription to the von Mises Institute's newsletter (despite having found much to agree with in it over a couple of years) when they started engaging in special pleading for China's one-child policy. Special pleading for highly unpleasant and thuggish governments is one of those things for which I have developed a bit of a nose.

I would still maintain that hegemonism vs. localism is a basic moral distinction, inasmuch as I would distinguish hegemonism from, for example, a just war, which the Vietnamese arguably (arguably only in the sense that stopping the slaughter probably did not figure among the top objects of their campaign, though I could be mistaken) waged against Pol Pot's democidal regime. In that case, there was a grave evil, which a neighbouring power was capable of rectifying, with a high probability of success. Hegemonism is simply the exertion of power and influence over other nations where this exercise cannot be defined in terms of the goods of order and justice; it is the exercise of power for the sake of aggrandizement, ideology, or wealth. Hence, the American military presence in Cold War Europe would not have been hegemonist per se (those who share my perspective may differ somewhat on this point, with some seeing NATO as always being about more that the Soviet Union); subsequent to the Cold War, given the use of NATO for the projection of power, it is assuredly hegemonist.

As regards the Balkans, well, I'm rather too tired to rehash all of that, save to note that American policy has been both perverse and tendentious, capricious and illogical. Some states are permitted to expel minorities - Croatia and the Serbs, Albanians in Kosovo and the Serbs. Others are forbidden to do so - Serbia with the Albanians. Some states and states-in-waiting are permitted to be essentially monocultural; others, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, are required to remain multiethnic and multiconfessional, despite the resulting unviability. And so on. At times, the very arbitrariness has been a test of American power - if America can make that patchwork of arbitrary policies stick, that will really demonstrate that we are the superpower. But there have been at least four constants: currying favour with the Muslim world, a policy always requited with ingratitude; selectively enforcing the model of the multiethnic, multiconfessional state as the normative political form of the Democratic Age; weakening real or perceived local allies of a potential geostrategic rival; and extending the geographic reach of Western corporations and financial institutions, a policy which coincides with the second and third of these constants. I fail to perceive that any of these constitutes a moral end, let alone a rightful object of (chuckle) defense (chortle) policy. As for the potential question of whether any of the Balkan wars could have warranted an intervention on just-war grounds, I consider it dubious. The conflicts could not have been resolved absent large-scale population transfers to which no-one would have consented, and therefore there never obtained a realistic prospect of success, even if it were granted, arguendo, that any of this involved legitimate American defense interests, which is not obvious. The actual policies pursued have established the preconditions for future conflicts, most notably where the Albanians are concerned, but also including Bosnia and Macedonia, not to mention of the relationship of Serbia to each; those policies have also established an Islamic beachhead in Southern Europe, which strikes one as an epochal stupidity.

Finally, Poland managed the transition about as well as any Eastern European nation could have managed it; though now she lies within the grasp of the EU, which may prove her eventual undoing.

As regards the word "hegemony", I am wedded to it, inasmuch as I will have no truck with the notion of a neutral language. Foreign policy is not akin to mathematics. The thing signified by the term is illegitimate, and I mean to draw attention to this quality. Why does this objection not apply to the term "just war"? - After all, it conveys the sense that there exists such a thing as a licit type of warfare. If we cannot have pejorative terms, why are we permitted affirmative ones?

Maximos, I certainly don't hold that economic progress, however attained, is self-justifying.

No, "self-justifying" doesn't quite capture the sense of things. It seems, rather, to be the case that you incline to the position that economics is value-neutral when considered in itself; valuation can only adhere to certain ends or objects, and a restricted set of ends and objects, at that. To me, this sounds like nothing so much as special pleading on behalf of corporations or capitalism, and a type of special pleading that cloaks a number of value-judgments regarding, for example, the rightness of economic concentration, the diminution of localities, and so on. Functioning as an employee is not inherently degrading, only circumstantially so; but nations are not individuals writ large, and there is something degrading in being reduced to an economic adjunct, colony, or fief of some other nation. This, I believe, follows from the personal, social nature of man, the differences between the cultures in which particular groups of men realize the goods of their nature, and the well-nigh universal testimony of history that one's nation being owned by outsiders is a humiliation. But perhaps men should learn to recognize that being dominated by the right sort of foreign power is really a blessing. If only mankind would learn to be other than they always have been!

The relation of morality to the ownership by Western companies of Serbia's energy industry is, to say the least of it, less direct!

Absentee ownership is a problem. The colonials saw it that way, and threw the bums out.

FWIW, less direct, ie., less problematic, morally speaking, does not equate to nota problem, morally speaking.

Even "locality" is a more or less fuzzy term. Are we talking about something the size of an average U.S. small town, city, county, state, or the nation as a whole? And how much independence in what areas means that you aren't under "hegemony"? How can something with so many different flavors and levels be good or bad in itself? The Welsh in the 1200's had so much localism that they got taken over lock, stock, and barrel by the English. They never learned to hang together lest they hang separately (literally, in many cases). Obviously, each town doesn't need to be physically self-sufficient in every respect.

The very fact that the relation of a purchase of Serbian stock to morality is *indirect* means that the act isn't evil or good in itself--i.e., yes, value neutral. Even Maximos indicates that part of the issue is *how many other* people are making similar investments from outside the country and hence how much _overall_ independence the country has in that area. It hardly seems to me to be any sort of special pleading to take the common-sense position that buying Serbian energy stock is in itself value neutral! You can argue that its consequences are so bad, or that _since_ so many Westerners are doing so, the consequences of doing any more of it are so bad, that it is in fact wrong. This isn't an incoherent position, though it's one I'm dubious about. But to say that there's something suspect or in the nature of special pleading about holding that the act of buying the stock by itself is value neutral is, well, ridiculous.

What is truly ridiculous is utilizing "Investing in Serbian energy stocks" as an abstraction to justify or legitimate "Investing in Serbian energy stocks as part of a Western-government-backed scheme to dominate the Balkans and marginalize Russia". The latter is illicit hegmonism on its face, while the former may or may not be illicit, depending upon a host of factors, such as the nature, scope, extent, and tendency of the foreign investment. Analyzing a discreet and abstract instance of the former tells us absolutely nothing concerning the latter, because relevant information has been arbitrarily excluded.

The fuzziness of "locality" is quite beside the point, as it is illegitimate to demand of any subject more precision than its nature will bear. The very notion of localism or subsidiarity expresses the moral judgment that any social good should be provided for at the lowest level of organization capable of realizing it; only those goods which are incapable of realization at a given level should be shouldered by the next highest level of organization. By its very nature, these are circumstantial, prudential judgments, which do not admit of a priori precision in definition. Subsidiarity is not an ideology. Now, from this standpoint, one additional thing which is ridiculous, nay, risible, is the notion that Serbia will revert to a stone age existence unless and until its energy sector is under control of the West. Which is to state that there exist prima facie reasons for regarding these investments as less than imperative.

As regards the relationship of discreet economic acts to morality, the analysis here is insufficiently fine-grained. It does not follow, from the fact that the relationship of the discreet act to morality is indirect, that the acts itself is value neutral. All that follows is that the moral status of the act will be conditioned by those prudential factors I've been mentioning throughout; the act is not moral or immoral on its face, but will be either moral or immoral depending upon an evaluation of all the pertinent circumstantial factors. Prima facie, in this case, does not mean, "Go ahead, do as you will!", but rather, "More information required." It is not immoral on its face for one company to acquire another; it may be morally dubious if the acquisition exacerbates a tendency towards monopoly or monopsony, or if it obliterates the source of employment in a given town. In other words, "Buying Serbian energy stock" cannot be value-neutral, because no such abstract act ever occurs; the only acts of "Buying Serbian energy stock" which occur are acts which take place in broader economic and political contexts. It would be possible to articulate a hypothetical act of stock-acquisition which was morally unproblematic, based upon elaborated versions of the criteria I've sketched; however, the particular acts of stock-acquisition under consideration here are illicit because hegemonist in form, substance, and intent.

Moreover, there is something in the nature of special pleading in play here. Virtually everyone reading this forum would willingly grant that there exists such a category as structural injustice, and that, for example, communism is an instantiation of this thing, by virtue of its political architecture, the injustices and atrocities upon which it is predicated, and so on. Nevertheless, in discussions of capitalist economic and political forms, the argument is always that individual capitalist acts are value-neutral unless their immediate objects are immoral; what this entails is that we can never, on this argument, contemplate the possibility that a given capitalist structure, or the consequences of such structures, could be unjust, illicit. For the structures themselves are the remote or ultimate products of innumerable discreet acts and decisions. If an individual businessman's acquisition of some stock is not, when considered solely with reference to itself, illicit, than the architecture which his act presupposes, and within which the consequences will ramify, cannot be illicit. The assignment of value-neutrality to the discreet acts contains value-judgments concerning the structures within which the acts transpire, as well as concerning their consequences and ramifications. In other words, because no singular act of stock-acquisition was illicit in itself, we are encouraged to view the collective effect of many such acts with equanimity or indifference; and thus, the actual circumstances here, namely, American hegemonism, fall from consideration. I consider this incoherent, for the same reasons I consider incoherent a view of morality which focuses upon discreet acts; virtue concerns patterns of acts tending to the formation of character; the necessarily social pursuit of justice concerns patterns of law, behaviour, action, etc., tending to the approximation of justice. Structures matter because character and qualities matter.

Finally, another way of conceptualizing this disagreement, I suspect, is that some political conservatives simply wish to have one less category of things to think about. I sympathize, but dissent most vigorously.

I am far too ignorant of the particulars to take a position on whether certain kinds of investment in Serbian energy stocks is or isn't morally illicit. But I wanted to clarify this particular more abstract point:

I consider this incoherent, for the same reasons I consider incoherent a view of morality which focuses upon discreet acts; virtue concerns patterns of acts tending to the formation of character; the necessarily social pursuit of justice concerns patterns of law, behaviour, action, etc., tending to the approximation of justice. Structures matter because character and qualities matter.

This is doubtless implicit, but can we say "both/and"? That is, we can render a judgement that an act is morally impermissable either because of its discreet object or because of intentions and circumstances. Part of circumstances include the structures surrounding the act; e.g. voting may not be per se evil but voting in a runoff between Hitler and Stalin would be evil. And without question it is true that virtue concerns patterns of acts tending to the formation of character.

I don't think "structural injustice" would describe the nature of my criticisms of communism. Not by a long shot, in fact. This is one reason why I always oppose the attempted parallel with communism "on the one side" and capitalism "on the other." In fact, nearly every time you say "structural injustice," I wonder what this means and whether I would agree that there exists such a thing. So put me in the minority there, if you are right about nearly everybody reading.

I thought you had granted me a hypothetical (ostensibly rather stupid) businessman who has no ill intent. But you said his intent was irrelevant. So you can't keep bringing back in the "hegemonist in intent" thing now. You're staking your claim even for cases even where it isn't. But perhaps the idea is that he does have as a recognized intent (because he knows it's a consequence) that he will be part of a very powerful group in terms of political influence in the country. Your grant of no ill intent was maybe just meant to say that he doesn't mean for people to die, starve, be hurt or tortured, and the like. In fact, perhaps he means for them to be materially better off. But you still regard his act as "hegemonist in intent" if he realizes he'll become part of this very influential group.

I don't grant that becoming highly politically influential is always wrong. Becoming the president of some political lobbying group that has great influence with some voting bloc has this consequence but isn't always a wrong thing to do.

One immediate disanalogy between the cases of personal virtue, on the one hand, and social structure, economic structure, on the other, is this: The former concerns one's _own_ character. The set-up of various social and economic structures, and the allegedly good or bad consequences therefore, concerns largely the behavior and characters of others and predictions about how these structures will affect that behavior and those characters. This is a much, much more uncertain business. I may be able to tell quite clearly from acquaintance with myself that eating potato chips every evening before bed is bad for my character. It's a lot harder to tell that having foreigners own the Serbian energy industry is bad for the Serbians' characters.

And I am, by the way, far more inclined to use the word "justice" or "injustice" to describe specific acts than to describe "structures."

Two forms of "intent":

1) What the businessman believes he is doing - intent as thought, wish, illusion, whatever.

2. What the businessman actually does and contributes to accomplishing.

The former does not matter; the latter does, because it concerns the actions he undertakes. Hegemony-in-intent is obviously an instance of the latter sort of 'intent'. Sorry for the imprecision.

I would not assert that 'structural injustice' is the principal reason for holding communism to be evil; but it is surely one of the reasons. Certainly, it is unjust for power to be concentrated in the hands of a Politburo and Premier exercising dictatorial control from the proverbial center. Certainly, the central command economy is not merely incoherent, but unjust.

And becoming "highly politically influential" is unspecified. Achieving political influence in one's own nation is scarcely to be equated with achieving political influence, through surreptitious and indirect means, in a foreign nation. Citizens of that other nation should call it subversion; we should acknowledge it as hegemonism. Unless, of course, there exists a dispositive demonstration of the Serbian threat to American security - an impossible feat, as Serbia is even less of a threat than Iraq was prior to the war, and Iraq was not a threat at all.

Disanalogy granted. But the introduction of "static" and imprecision in the analysis of social structures does not entail that these do not, or cannot, instantiate normative positions, positions which can be subjected to judgment. What follows is that it is easier for an individual to become virtuous than it is for a society to become more just; but we already knew as much.


Yes, it was implicit. Duly noted.

And I am, by the way, far more inclined to use the word "justice" or "injustice" to describe specific acts than to describe "structures."

I think it does come down to acts, but acts are always in a context. I don't have any hesitation calling (e.g.) Auschwitz structurally unjust, sustained by many per se evil acts to be sure but also many acts evil because of circumstances (e.g. driving the train). In Heaven there will be no sin and no temptation to it, but in this world there will always be both individual sin and structures of sin. Communism is structurally unjust. Modern industrial capitalism is less so, but it still has its structurally unjust aspects, where "structurally unjust" means ways in which the system treats what is morally wrong as the right thing to do.

None of which is to take a position on the particular dispute here, which again I am too ingorant of the particulars to comment upon. But I can easily see how a businessman - an ordinary good guy - might get himself into something morally prohibited here by doing culpably insufficient diligence on the effects of his acts, or by culpably discounting subsidiarity, usually justifying it to himself as consensual and therefore inherently licit. (Though I can just as easily see that not happening). Indeed that is one of the structural injustices of capitalism: it treats acts involving mutual consent as self-justifying simply in virtue of consent: it teaches those who live under it to think that way. Also I do think that simply ignoring or discounting subsidiarity gives rise to moral problems: tyranny is a bad word precisely because we understand it as violating the natural good of subsidiarity, and not all tyrannies are only or primarily through force of arms. It is possible to sell onesself into slavery, and there is moral culpability all around when that occurs.

Again this is all in the abstract. I have the feeling that in the abstract I agree with Maximos, but when it comes to the particulars I am more likely to side with Lydia. As the local soveriegn government Serbia is the enforcer of contracts, so it isn't as though the fox isn't in charge of the henhouse. Foreign investment - particularly outside of the Western-affiliated first world - carries a lot of additional risk precisely because the locals at the end of the day can do pretty much whatever they want, even though they already cashed your check and agreed to certain terms.

it isn't as though the fox isn't in charge of the henhouse.

This is precisely the problem with Serbia: there are just enough foxes in positions of authority within the henhouse, that this will amount to a gradual subversion of her sovereignty.

"Surreptitious" needs to be looked into. "Indirect" means of political influence in other countries may not be so bad. Why should they be? And influence over the domestic policy of other countries can, in my opinion, be positively good. I'm no fan of foreign aid, but that's because I'm not sure my money should be taken by force for humanitarian help to other countries to begin with. I have _no_ problem with threatening to withdraw it over human rights concerns. There are zillions of instances in which foreigners--from missionaries to bully-pulpit-preaching presidents to diplomats--have wielded political influence over other countries with good results, and I cannot see that influencing some other country's politics is such a bad thing.

"What follows is that it is easier for an individual to become virtuous than it is for a society to become more just."

What also follows, as far as I'm concerned, is that it's an awful lot harder to tell that a given act is going to contribute to the development of "injustice" in some society or to moral and immaterial harm, or even material harm, to its people. This is particularly so when there is nothing intrinsically wrong with trading in the specific goods and services in question. And our anger, outrage, implications of sinister doings, and the like should be moderated accordingly.

But I suspect I'm going to get nowhere with all of this. I'm certainly not claiming to know beans _specifically_ about Serbia. My disagreement here is with what appears to me to be the theoretical position that the sorts of things going on here are automatically a cause for fury, outrage, and high-toned rhetoric about Western hegemony. Evidently it's considered a sufficient condition for such talk and writing that Western businessmen are being set up to acquire substantial holdings in the Balkan energy market, which will (I am being told, and plausibly enough) give them a lot of political clout in the region. It's that approach to which I object, the idea that this is in itself such a bad thing, and that you are doing something wrong if you participate in it, and are therefore a fair target for all manner of furious mutterings about your nefarious doings. I gather there's just a rock-bottom disagreement about how bad a thing this is in itself and, therefore, how morally bad it is to participate in it.

Diplomacy is an indirect means of influence, traditionally a critical element of statecraft; nothing I have argued should be construed to mean that I repudiate diplomacy. So, it is not a question of influence per se, but of the specific type of influence that is being sought in the case of Serbia: arguably unjust means employed to the end of influencing a nation contrary to its own interests, and against the will of its people, and all of this towards the realization of aims not licit in themselves. Look, folks: neoconservatism in foreign policy is not benign. Quite the opposite.

Our rock-bottom disagreement arises from the fact that I regard these policy maneuvers - and that with reason, based upon twenty years of foreign policy statements which intimate the course of American policy in this region of the world - as elements of a neoconservative/neoliberal (is there a difference?) strategy of "benevolent" global hegemony. Whereas, on the other hand, you perhaps do not so perceive them as such, or do not perceive the geostrategy advanced by the American political establishment as aiming at such hegemony; perhaps the notion does not carry with it proofs which meet the satisfaction of analytic philosophers. :)

However, allow me to lay aside for a moment the matter of neoconservatism. There are legitimate and illegitimate means of getting others to do what one wishes, even in foreign affairs; and controlling/coercing/manipulating/relying upon illegitimate or criminal local authorities are not among them, where the nation in question is not a threat to America. Which Serbia is not now, nor ever has been. Would we think it licit were the EU to attempt something analogous towards Israel, in an effort to "induce" her to be nicer to Hamas? Would we think it licit were China to attempt something analogous towards us, in an effort to "encourage" us not to notice a ring of military installations in Latin America? Again: context.

"Controlling/coercing/manipulating/relying upon illegitimate or criminal local authorities are not among them..."

I'm not sure I agree across the board. For example, suppose I were a Westerner long ago with packets of money and bribed some local leader in some middle-of-nowhere region in China--who got there, let's say, by assassinating the previous leader (so he's illegitimate)--to strongly discourage foot-binding in his villages. That might be okay, depending on what means they were going to use to discourage it. But the fact that he was an illegitimate ruler and that I was a foreigner and bribed him in a smoky back room doesn't make it per se a bad thing to do, to my mind.

And as far as I can see, what we're talking about here (I may be wrong) in the case of these Westerners is instead their having such a large control of the energy companies in these countries that they can say, "Change your policy on such-and-such a score, or we're going to make it hard for your country to get energy." Something along those lines. Well, that's quite a bit of power, so there's a danger it will be abused. If we're just going to bring out Lord Acton's statement about power and corruption, I'll agree with it as a general maxim. In fact, I like it a lot. But I'm not at all sure that using that sort of influence to "manipulate" the country's leaders to do this or that is an intrinsically bad thing. It depends on what "this or that" might be.

My problem with the tactics (e.g. boycotts) used against Israel is not that they are attempts to twist Israel's arm, but that they are attempts to twist Israel's arm to do something Israel ought not to do, and that ought not to be asked. They are based on a nigh-criminally foolish leftist understanding of the situation. If China tried to get us not to notice the military installations, the problem is that it's trying to get us not to notice military installations (presumably, being run by communists). We might in prudence not want to give a nasty country like China that sort of leverage over us, but that's because it's a nasty country and might use the leverage in such a way. It's not because *having economic leverage* in another country is itself bad.

If a country's people and leaders think the particular people trying to buy up economic influence in their country are going to try to get them to do something they shouldn't do, then they should resist it. But not because of some extremely general principle like "It's bad for another country to have a lot of economic and hence political influence in our country."

Here, too, you assert that this influence is going to be used "contrary to its own interest." Well, I may or may not agree. So far, the interest in question seems to be mostly an interest in "doing things for themselves," which is far too broad and vague an interest for me to get very excited about it or worried if the buy-up works contrary to it.

Now if you told me that the corporate guys in question are going to use their influence to pressure the countries in question to allow themselves to be taken over by Muslims, you might impress me. That's obviously contrary to their interests! But in that case, the problem, again, is with how the particular corporate guys in question are planning to push, not with the fact of their having clout per se. And then we could be off to the races on the question of whether some given hypothetical businessman could use his influence to counteract the bad influence on this score of his fellow Western businessmen--something I really don't know but that would have to be considered if we're saying he shouldn't buy the stock.

So, it is not a question of influence per se, but of the specific type of influence that is being sought in the case of Serbia...

Some time ago a friend who worked for a startup gave me the rundown on the terms of an investment which had just been made in the company. She was basically trying to figure out if the place had a future. I concluded that it definitely did not: in a nutshell the principals had effectively sold complete control over the company for a pittance in the guise of a small minority investment, because of various terms controlling the deal. They got snookered and were basically screwed: if things worked out well, the new investor was going to take it all. If things worked out poorly, the new investors would probably still make out like bandits and in the absolute worst case they would lose a relatively small investment. Current employees and the founders were already dead, they just didn't know it. This works out great for the investors as long as the charade can be maintained, the controlling terms kept under wraps.

So my friend left.

In my view these kinds of deals are immoral. Technically the terms are disclosed in the documents so they aren't illegal, but they take advantage of the ignorance of some and the greed of others to basically screw an in-place population.

What I am getting is that Maximos sees these specific deals as being like that: as being immoral takings done under the color of legal business dealings. I'm not in a position to confirm or deny that, though it sounds perfectly plausible, and it certainly isn't uncommon.

But Lydia is right to say that the particulars matter a lot, and that it is hard to say what is going on morally without knowing what is going on in the particulars.

So I'm not sure that there is disagreement on core principles as much as different concerns. In another thread the McGrews don't think that positivism is particularly influential or even existent but that postmodernism is both, so anything which seems to validate even the tiniest part of the latter at the expense of the former encounters a visceral resistance. In this thread Maximos has zero sympathy for businessmen because business basically already owns the modern world and is coextensive in significant part with modern liberal politics.

There may be truths or partial truths in these dialectical predispositions we have that drive us to take to the various corners in the ring, but to some extent they bring to mind the idea that a black man can't be racist. Industrial capitalism can't be undistilled evil. On the other hand it does have structural evils, and I'm perfectly willing to believe that these particular deals are manifestations of them.

Nothing that the West will endeavour to achieve in Serbia is even remotely analogous to foot-binding, FGM, suttee, cannibalism, or any such atrocity. In reality, the influence will be brought to bear for the purposes of increasing the permeability of the country to Western multinationals (I recognize that you do not share my subsidiarist concern for "doing for oneself", but what can I say? - I'm following both philosophical and theological conviction; these are substantive goods of human nature and society, here. "Having influence" is always bad under certain conditions.), securing acquiescence in Western designs for Kosovo and Bosnia (Serbia will relinquish the former, and the Bosnian Serbs will be forever separated from their countrymen), the incorporation of Serbia and the wider Balkan region into the structures of Western power projection, the installation of Western, Soros Fund types of civil society and human rights organizations (essentially, European social liberalism, an objective evident in the colour revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia), and the projection of power against/encirclement of Russia. Though you may have a conception of Putin as a Stalin redivivus, not one of these things is related to legitimate, objective American defense requirements. Not. One. They are the products of the sort of delusional, End of History, global-democratic-capitalism-is-the-destiny-of-humanity foreign policy thinking so fulsomely evident in the Bush administration. In point of fact, the American desire to strategically encircle and weaken a potential peer competitor in Russia has actually undermined global security by entrenching jihadists in Europe, both in Bosnia and Kosovo, and by heightening the contradiction of American support for both of these regimes at a time when they are transit points (and more) for the very terrorists we imagine that we are fighting. This is not to mention Chechnya and the absurdity of our policies in the Caucasus. In sum, jihad is no longer jihad, provided that it can be utilized to marginalize Russia, an object, again, to which there attaches no necessity other than that of hubris.

Once more, benevolent global hegemony is neither benevolent, global, nor truly hegemonic; it is the pretense that is so destructive. This sort of thing will cost us the Republic, if it has not already done so.

I see what you mean, Zippy: A kind of deception, sort of pushing a paper under someone's nose to sign so quickly that he doesn't get a chance to read the fine print.

The trouble is that in this case either a) the fine print doesn't seem so obscure to me--in other words, I suspect the people doing the signing aren't actually deceived or b) the fine print doesn't sound so bad to me. Sometimes both. The latter part of this is a result in no small part of the sweeping way in which the claims are stated: Increasing the permeability of the country to Western multinationals, the projection of power against Russia. _On their face_, neither of these arouses my horror. It's not that I'm claiming that we definitely have national defense needs to lock up the Serbian power market. It's just that I have a tendency to shrug when I hear about "encircling Russia."

The Soros-style human rights organizations are, perhaps, a different matter. _If_ what is being claimed is that these business deals are highly likely to bring pressure to bear on the countries to liberalize abortion law (though I have no idea what Serbian abortion law is presently) to introduce sex education in the schools, or what-not, then I'm listening. I'm going to want to know what the connection is between the business deals and the pressure in question, and what resources are available to the individual businessman to stay clear of entanglement with influencing the countries in this direction.

Or take the reference to "using jihad." I take that concern seriously. I'm as disgusted as anybody at what I hear about our lies regarding jihadists in Kosovo. So then, again, my question is this: _How_, exactly, is businessman X's buying stock in Serbian energy going to aid the jihadists? And is it not possible for him to own the energy interests without aiding the jihadists?

The connections are *so* *gosh-darned* *indirect* and the geopolitical claims of causality so sweeping that I find my skepticism rising up immediately, and all the more so when I'm supposed to be so _angry_ at these businessmen for "hegemony" _instead of_ being angry at them for "aiding jihadists in the Balkans" or "bringing radical feminism to the Balkans" or something like that.

My analogy about foot-binding, by the way, was meant to be a counterexample to the claim that using illegitimate local leaders, or exercising foreign "control" or even bribery and back-room deals, are always bad ways to proceed. My idea was that in some cases it could be morally okay for a given foreigner to exercise this sort of pressure, using the greed of a local ruler, to bring about some change at the local level that the locals were otherwise not inclined to bring about themselves. I realize this may sound radical, but it just isn't obvious to me that this is _always_ wrong as a matter of process. Again, Maximos's earlier claims about there being good and bad ways of getting people to do things seem to me to focus too much on process and too little on substance. Sure, if we are talking about torturing someone, then that's a bad way to get people to do things. But a little financial pressure or making it worth the local guy's while to stop some horrific practice. Why not? Even if it's foreign influence, even if it's a backroom deal, even if it's contrary to local customs. Yes, that might be okay, in my book.

The fine print may or may not be obscure; given that these investments will occur with the connivance of compliant, cunning local pols, I rather suspect that what fine print there is will not only be well-comprehended, but will have been crafted in consultation with those locals. We are, after all, referring to the privatization of state assets here: primitive accumulation in its rawest, ugliest form. The locals in on the action will see to their own "requirements". Nevertheless, it is mystifying to me that such shady privatizations should be regarded as legitimate, merely because some hypothetical businessman might be an "innocent abroad", and because some people simply have an animus against Russia. For these reasons we construct a (postmodern sort of) empire? What weak reeds!

Speaking of which, you might not do more than shrug when our government engages in this geostrategic chicanery, unrelated though it is to any legitimate defense requirement (More than this: it is actually injurious, not least because it antagonizes a nation with a common interest in resisting jihad. Don't be deceived by Russian arms sales, as these are gambits in the wider maneuvering over Central Asian energy resources. That, for example, is what all the business about pipeline routes concerns.), but we should be plain about this being a result of a "thing" that many people have about Russia. It isn't something objective and substantial; it is more on the level of animus, suspicion, dislike, etc. Russia is the Other.

And it is not the businessmen, principally, though most of them will enter into these arrangements in full knowledge of what they are, but the foreign policy establishments of a handful of Western nations, principally ours, who are engineering hegemony. It's merely that, for America, business is always the hand inside the mailed fist. Honestly, I simply do not grasp the degree of solicitude for the poor businessman here. Why does it matter so much that he be able to own certain things? Cannot capitalism ever take "No" for an answer? Sheesh. It is not as though there is really any incandescent necessity here, such that the world will be undone if some schlub cannot invest in Serbian energy as part of a government scheme to influence the Serbian government.

The fact that the causal chains have rather long, spacious links doesn't really prove much; indirect influence, and indirection generally, are integral aspects of the great game. This is simply how it is done. And we really need to wrap our minds around the delusional nature of American policy in the Balkans; the reason for the American solicitude for Kosovo and Bosnia has to do with the desire to curry favour with the Muslim world, to incorporate the Islamic world into the global order, to demonstrate that Islam is a religion of peace and that we can all dwell together in multicultural, democratic, capitalist amity. And it has been failing all along, just as the most spectacular instance of this delusional policy has failed in Mesopotamia. Anything that facilitates the policies fueled by these illusions - which American influence over Serbia will do - abets the jihad, however indirectly. Objectively speaking, American policy in the Balkans already is pro-jihad, because this is what it actually accomplishes.

Regarding the Soros Foundation stuff, there is no reason to believe that such advocacy is not already occurring in connection with the Western presence. The Soros folks, with their advocacy of cultural liberalism and openness to alternative lifestyles, were elements of the Orange revolution in the Ukraine, 'despite' the presence of bona fide brownshirt factions in that coalition. Mainstream conservatives make Soros serve as a whipping boy for domestic consumption, when it suits them; where foreign policy is concerned, they either turn a blind eye or openly avow their hypocrisy.

I would go so far as to say that if the British had to execute a few malefactors in order to suppress suttee, it was licit for them to perform the executions. However, absolutely nothing - nothing - in Serbia is crying out for redress that can only come by the hands of America. Though somewhere, somehow, Russia might be achieving a geopolitical objective! God help us all!

Right. Good. So then it isn't "hegemony" that's the problem but "hegemony" for insufficiently important reasons. Hegemony to suppress suttee is fine, and localism can go pound sand.

Now, _I_ agree with this. I'm putting it in a deliberately insouciant way, but I'm willing to sign on to it.

But in that case, this isn't really all about the evils of hegemony and the goodness of localism but rather about the ostensibly unnecessary and badly-trending nature of this particular hegemony.

So what do you say to the businessman? I'm not, perhaps, being solicitous of him in the way that it apparently seems. I'm looking for a good _reason_ to tell him not to buy the stock. To my mind, just saying, "But then, the West would have lots of control in the region, and the people wouldn't be doing their energy business for themselves, and this might lead to some non-specified bad stuff for them, like, loss of national independence, which is bad for character" doesn't cut it. And it certainly doesn't cut it if I'm going to be implying that he's part of some big sinister, bad, sweetheart deal.

However, you may have noticed that I'm deferring to the paleos on the _facts_ here a good deal. It's the theory where we seem to differ. So, suppose I take what you have given me, and try to craft it into a reason: "Don't get into this deal, because the U.S. government is going to use the sheer fact that lots of U.S. companies own this energy stock as a lever to try in various political ways to curry favor with the jihadists in the region as part of their crazy religion-of-peace nonsense abroad." There's a reason I can take seriously. Or how about, "Don't get into this deal, because the U.S. government has such wretched ideas about how to further civil rights abroad. They'll use the sheer fact of this level of ownership by U.S. companies as a way of pressuring the local governments to sign onto a liberal social agenda which includes elements that should be highly objectionable to American social conservatives." That's an interesting one, and one to think about seriously.

But what these have to do with is the *way in which the power will be used.* Again, to me, privatizing state assets and allowing U.S. companies to get in on the ground floor, make a lot of money, and thus giving the West a lot of clout just isn't upsetting in itself. And if I were thinking of getting in on the ground floor in such a deal, the sheer fact that then there would be all this clout for somebody or other wouldn't bother me. But if someone else is going to use, as it were, the clout generated in part by my involvement ("Just look at all your energy assets that 'we' [U.S. companies] own") as an argument for stuff of which I heartily disapprove, then I want to know about that before I get involved.

Yes, that is an insouciant phrasing, but it is still not quite right, in my estimation; for hegemony properly so-called aims at a sort of permanence that merely stamping out an odious custom does not. The British could extirpate the vile custom, and - though not for that reason especially - depart one day. The architects of the American hegemony imagine theirs to be epochal, definitive of an age of history; grandiosity is their metier.

What would I say to the hypthetical businessman? Well, Some of what you have proposed I might say sounds fine to me, although I'd alter the phrasing. I doubt that any businessman would regard my counsel seriously; then again, the failure of moderns to understand the significance of subsidiarity is not my problem - if they cannot comprehend that the quality of a way of life is not a function of the quantities of its inputs, well, there isn't much I can do about that. So much the worse for my philosophy and politics, but what can I say but that life is tragic?

These considerations do not come down solely to how the power is used; the fact of power remains a consideration, as structure is still of consequence. The exceptions, such as extirpating some repugnant custom, are analogous to the case of a just war; they do not establish the rule, but witness to it by their exceptional character; they are not the permanent condition of international relations, but (hopefully) restorative, reforming moments. I detect an attempt to elide the distinction between exceptional cases, as determined by circumstances and prudential judgment, and the ordinary, baseline state of affairs; it is reminiscent of now-shopworn rhetoric about the "new normal" and what this meant for executive authority and the threshold for warmaking, in my mind.

Finally, state assets are not the de facto property of rogue, quisling politicians, who may dispose of them as they think best. State assets are commons, the collective property of the citizenry of the nation, which is why their corrupt privatization may be referred to as primitive accumulation, after the pattern of the enclosures of the commons of old England. The gentry had no rightful authority to enclose the commons and abolish customary rights; the commons were not theirs to do with as they pleased; nevertheless, their illicit acts of private appropriation were legitimized retroactively by courts, which ruled on grounds of "improvement" that the enclosures should be upheld. "Improvement" referred to the generation of greater exchange-values, which is to say, monetary profits; curiously enough, this is the same justification advanced today under the guises of efficiency, productivity, aggregate GDP, and so on. The more things change, the more the structure remains the same.

Yes, I don't have nearly as strong a sense as you do of the _normalcy_, in the normative sense, of a sort of "no economic dependence" policy between nations. So I would never say that buying up chunks of some other country's energy resources has to be justified as some drastic measure akin to armed conquest.

The way I look at it, good nations are rare. Bad nations are a dime a dozen. Prosperous nations are relatively rare. Poor nations are a dime a dozen. And somebody is always going to have power or influence over somebody else in the world. If the extent of it is some sort of economic entanglement, rather than coming in the form of, "If you don't do this, I'll break your knee-caps," then the person or people in the less powerful position is doing pretty well, considering human history and the world as a whole. If economic inter-relatedness among nations has the outcome of making bad nations better behaved and poor nations better off, then bully for it. It sounds like an awfully mild-mannered, human-interaction kind of process. If in some given case I'm convinced that it's going to have bad effects, I'll listen to that. But certainly it doesn't seem suspect in itself to me. That's a pretty fundamental difference between us.

I can't see the analogy to the commons enclosures, if only because the commons were, apparently, a good thing, whereas state ownership of the major means of production is not, in my book, a good thing. I mean, on your theory, the commons should just have been left commons. But I don't _think_ that on your theory the state-owned industries should just be left state-owned. Communism isn't an economically perfectly okay state of affairs that just should be left alone for the good of all.

I read that in Russia, they gave out some sort of scrip giving all the people such-and-such a holding in the state-owned industries. Not surprisingly, before you could say "capitalism is grand" three times fast, these bits of paper were sold for cash to people with cash, and the rights to the state industries were taken over by a much smaller number of people. But actually the issuance of the scrip to begin with sounds like it was an attempt to treat these things as commons, to give each person a share in them at the outset.

Do you have a better idea that wouldn't be likely to have a similar result?

Aside from my previously-stated objection to excessive interdependence - that it precludes or constrains the development of native capacities and excellences, which is as much, or more so, an objection to its effect on individual actors as opposed to, say, a communal capacity to manufacture widgets - my reason for opposing the sort of interdependence that global free trade has brought is is that it undermines self-government and sovereignty. This is almost true as a matter of deduction: increasing interdependence engenders a harmonization of policy, then law, and eventually, administrative mechanisms, usually elaborated outside the structures of representative institutions. It is not merely the final stage of this process which has deleterious effects upon sovereignty, but the process in its entirety. History furnishes an abundance of examples of the phenomenon, the European Union merely being the most prominent and egregious, owing to its contemporaneity; the American relationship with creditor nations has begun to exhibit this tendency, at least on the level of informal policy (as well as raw political and financial leverage - observe what will transpire with respect to the revaluation (or not) of the Chinese currency), but recent high-level economic and political consultations between the three North American nations, at which economic, migration, security, some measure of legal, and administrative harmonization have been discussed, have also exhibited this pattern.

Interdependence constrains more than it liberates, since the interdependence typically focuses upon but a handful of factors or sectors of human society - the economic, mainly - with the other sectors, from culture, politics, law, and demography fated to subserve economics. One finds hints along these lines in Hume and Smith, about the growth of commerce and interdependence fostering a softening and blending of cultural mores; later writers in political economy openly avowed their conviction that interdependence would exercise a civilizing influence upon the nations, rendering war obsolete - and this was a prominent cultural motif during the Edwardian years, prior to the Great War: commercial utopianism. This, however, is not to argue that your average mainstream conservative secretly espouses some woolly ideas about commerce as an engine of peace, and the pounding of swords into plowshares; it is suggest that, apart from fantasies about perpetual peace and comity, free trade is as much of a constraint as it is a locus of freedom. It is all contingent upon what one regards as the primary loci of human freedom, self-government, and the good. The modern world has made its decisions, and I find them wanting, for they have constrained those arenas within which substantive goods are pursued and attained, that instrumental goods might become the determinative structural element of our civilization; modernity has liberated the lesser and enchained the nobler. Interdependence, in other words, exists in permanent tension with subsidiarity, and undermines it if it achieves a certain path dependency; moderation, then, is requisite to the preservation of the values of self-governance.

Concerning the commons, the analogy presupposes nothing about the normative value of the collective property, ie, the nature and form of its being held collectively; it concerns only the illegitimacy of the means by which it is converted to purely private property. You are largely correct regarding the shares of ownership in Soviet state industries; many people sold them for cash or what have you; others retained them, only to have these nascent property rights abrogated in the shock-therapy privatization of the 90's. I would not make so bold as to propose an alternative to either retention of the state properties or primitive accumulation, absent a comprehensive knowledge of the legal system and socio-economic conditions of Serbia. The options are manifold, and selection among them must be contingent upon local circumstances.

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