Malcolm and Martin
In "Solve for X," my friend Diana Schaub writes, "Had he lived beyond the age of 39...I suspect [Malcolm X] would have preserved his ability to charm and surprise" (Winter 2011/12). On display throughout her review, however, are not only Malcolm's but also her own considerable powers to charm and surprise. CRB readers may find particularly surprising her claim that in at least one important respect, Malcolm "was on firmer ground than [Martin Luther King, Jr.]," standing "with Locke, the American revolutionaries, and Lincoln."
The specific claim is that Malcolm stood with those pillars of liberty in holding that at bottom there are two and only two modes of overcoming societal or governmental injustice, and the two modes are starkly opposed to each other: "the ballot or the bullet," laws or arms. The contrast is with King's "betwixt-and-between" strategy of nonviolent or "civil" disobedience, in which Schaub discerns a naïve, antinomian faith in the power of extralegal, conscientious action to bring justice without imperiling lawful order.
About King she has a point, one especially worth notice in view of King's general sanctification in recent decades. She has a point, too, in highlighting the admirable elements in Malcolm's life and thought, including his capacity for moral and political growth. Malcolm seems indeed to have overcome his racial hatred during the final phase of his life, and he did show signs of a maturing interest in law and the ballot as instruments of reform. All that said, I think there may be an excess of charity in her reading of Malcolm and a deficiency of it in her reading of King.
Malcolm's later expressions of interest in electoral strategizing and lawful reform—in the ballot over the bullet—appear as relatively scattered buoys of sobriety amid a stormy sea of rhetoric romanticizing righteous violence. Surely he deployed such rhetoric in part strategically, to make white Americans more receptive to lawful reform by making them shudder at the alternative. But one senses also a certain relish, an element of bloody-minded enthusiasm in his violent rhetoric that casts doubt on his willingness and ability to govern the anger that he was determined to unleash.
Granted, 1960s radicals like Malcolm and the Black Panthers were not unique in falling prey to this sort of bloody-mindedness. Frederick Douglass displayed a similar quality at times, although he regarded it as a personal failing and expressed a sense of shame as he acknowledged it. But Malcolm went well beyond Douglass as he adopted a proud stance of revolutionary opposition to the American political order. To the very end of his career, as Schaub notes, Malcolm lavished praise on the likes of Mao, Castro, and Ché Guevara, revolutionaries implacably hostile to America and to its principles.
Perhaps we should regard Malcolm's zeal for radical opposition as another transitional phase. Perhaps he considered it a means for solidifying the trust of his alienated sympathizers—largely young, urban black males—the better to prepare them for a more positive message of unity and self-worth. And yet, surveying the evidence of Malcolm's brief life, I find it hard to deny that his legacy embraces a destructive spirit of rage as well as more affirmative appeals to unity and dignity.
Finally, a word on King. Against the latter's practice of civil disobedience, Schaub invokes John Locke, who expresses something akin to Malcolm's (and Machiavelli's) disdain for halfway measures when he ridicules the notion that one could "strike [against tyranny] with reverence." King was convinced that he could move beyond both ballots (at the time largely unavailable) and laws or judicial channels (dilatory and ineffective) while yet stopping short of (1) fomenting revolution, or propagating a generalized disrespect for law and (2) promoting violence. It seems clear, in hindsight, that King was overconfident in both these convictions.
It seems to me too harsh, however, to conclude that King was therefore more distant from the American tradition and more dangerous than Malcolm X. As to a halfway point between law and revolution, one must consider King's repeated expressions of respect for law and reverence for the U.S. Constitution. One might also compare King's example with that of Douglass, who vigorously exhorted his fellow Northerners to disobey the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and defended his position against the charge of revolution by contending, "Revolution implies a subversion of the government; this is a simple resistance to the enforcement of one enactment, standing alone." And as to a halfway point between law and arms, King's example moves me to wonder whether Locke was altogether correct, or properly applicable here, in seeming to reject the possibility of resistance that is at once forceful and peaceful. Is it not after all possible, in some circumstances, to resist injustice in a spirit of philia, to use King's word, or of charity for all, to use Lincoln's? In circumstances demanding not the overthrow and expulsion of tyrannical governments, as did Locke's and the American revolutionaries', but rather the moral reform of a majority with whom one must integrate as fellow citizens, was not King's insistence on peace and healing in the end superior, as a matter of statesmanship, to Malcolm's rhetorically violent, illiberal, and anti-American bravado?
Peter C. Myers
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Eau Claire, WI
Diana Schaub may be right that Malcolm X's thesis in "The Ballot or the Bullet" aligns with John Locke's recognition of a right to revolution, but she fundamentally mischaracterizes Martin Luther King's views on this topic. King always recognized oppressed people's right to revolt. In championing nonviolent resistance, he criticized both passive acceptance of, and violent resistance to, oppression as wrong—but he never morally equated them. Violently resisting oppression was less immoral than submitting to it. Nor was King a doctrinaire pacifist opposed to war under any conceivable circumstances. He considered World War II, for example, to be a just and necessary war. In dismissing would-be '60s revolutionaries' "romantic illusions," he did not deny their right to revolution but hardheadedly challenged their assessment of the current situation and its prospects for revolutionary success. Nor did King deny individuals' right to self-defense, although he urged them voluntarily to suspend that right in order to act effectively in public demonstrations to eradicate a social evil.
Schaub considers King's practice of nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience an illegitimate way to pursue justice. She wonders if it would have been better if King had focused more exclusively on the ballot. He certainly emphasized the ballot—think Selma and his refrain at the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage to Washington, "Give us the ballot!" It was a great blessing to this country that, until voting rights were fully secured, civil rights forces followed another, "more excellent" way than the Lockean dilemma of only going to the polls or to war.
De Anza College
In her essay, Diana Schaub concludes that in comparison to Martin Luther King, "[t]heoretically Malcolm was on firmer ground.... He stood with Locke, the American revolutionaries, and Abraham Lincoln." Because they "held true to the nation's foundations," Schaub writes, "elements of Malcolm's radicalism...were in the long run less dangerous." Malcolm was undeniably a link in the chain of America's revolutionary struggles, although above all one Schaub fails to mention—the Radical Reconstruction state governments across the territory of the defeated slavocracy, some of which were led in large part by freedmen. And as Malcolm told reporters in Selma, Alabama, in February 1965, he was "100 percent for any effort put forth by Black people in this country to have access to the ballot"
But "less dangerous" to whom? Unlike King, Malcolm understood that capitalism could not be reformed, by the ballot or any other means. Producing freedom for African Americans is impossible for "this economic system, this political system, this social system, this system, period," Malcolm told a large public meeting organized by readers of the Militant newsweekly in May 1964. And just a month before his death, he told a TV interviewer in Canada that the world was heading toward "a showdown between the economic systems that exist on this earth...between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation. I believe that there will be that kind of clash, but I don't think that it will be based upon the color of the skin."
Malcolm and King—whose aides, by the way, tried (unsuccessfully) to block Malcolm from speaking to young people in Selma—were on diverging courses politically. In fact, when Malcolm learned while in Africa in July 1964 that a "summit" meeting of civil rights leaders had called off protests until after the November elections, he publicly denounced King and others for having "sold themselves out and become campaign managers in the Negro community for Lyndon B. Johnson."
Schaub makes the claim that "Malcolm in fact supported [Goldwater] for the presidency" in 1964. That assertion is not credible. She is simply repeating Manning Marable, who claims Alex Haley had an article by Malcolm entitled, "Why I Am for Goldwater." But Marable himself doesn't claim to have seen the alleged article, nor does he say when it was supposedly written or where it can be found. His assertion flies in the face of what Malcolm repeatedly said in 1964—including in the Autobiography "as told to Alex Haley"!—"I wasn't in the United States at election time, but if I had been, I wouldn't have put myself in the position of voting for either candidate for the Presidency, or of recommending to any black man to do so." Along with the Socialist Workers Party, Malcolm was virtually the only voice among those involved in the struggle for Black rights who rejected calling for a vote for either the Democratic or Republican candidates.
Schaub gets all this wrong in part because, like virtually everyone who writes about Malcolm X, she turns primarily to commentaries written by others. Aside from a few references to the Autobiography, Schaub's six-page review has only one quotation of anything Malcolm actually said—from a speech he gave in April 1964. But Malcolm lived, spoke, and practiced revolutionary politics for another ten and a half months! Eight books and pamphlets—containing more than 50 of Malcolm's speeches and interviews, most from that last year—are kept in print by Pathfinder Press. In comments on my own recent book, Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, which deals in part with this outstanding revolutionary leader of the working class and the fight for Black freedom, I've found reviewers more than once taking issue with statements they attribute to me but are actually nothing more than paraphrases of statements by Malcolm, each one of which is footnoted to a source accessible to any interested reader. If you want to argue with him—quote him.
National Secretary, Socialist Workers Party
New York, NY
Diana Schaub replies:
Mr. Barnes reminds us to stick close to primary texts. I couldn't agree more. That is why in a piece that began as a book review, most of the quotes were not from Manning Marable, but directly from the speeches and writings of Malcolm X (not only the Autobiography but the "Message to the Grass Roots," "The Ballot or the Bullet," and the "Harvard Law School Forum"), along with nine other original authors. We must have different notions of what a quotation is; by my count there were 23 quotations from Malcolm X, a third of them from "The Ballot or the Bullet" speech, which I focused on not to "argue" with Malcolm X but to understand him.
To that end, I welcome Mr. Barnes's challenge about Malcolm X and Barry Goldwater. Here, he is right, I did rely on Marable, whom I now believe to have overstated Malcolm's position in calling it "support" for Goldwater. Malcolm X did reject both parties, comparing Lyndon Johnson to a fox and Goldwater to a wolf. Nonetheless, Malcolm X expressed a temperamental preference for Goldwater: "Goldwater as a man, I respected for speaking out his true convictions—something rarely done in politics today." Not only did he admire this quality, he appreciated its political consequence: Goldwater "flatly told black men he wasn't for them—and there is this to consider: always, the black people have advanced further when they have seen they had to rise up against a system that they clearly saw was outright against them." It is also worth pointing out that in December 1964, Malcolm X appeared in an Oxford Union Debate as the defender of Goldwater's famous proposition: "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and...moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." (To readers aware of Harry Jaffa's authorship of this quote, is anything else needed to establish Malcolm X's place in the Western tradition?—unless it may be the Oxford speech's concluding invocation of Shakespeare.)
Nothing David Howard-Pitney writes convinces me that I have fundamentally mischaracterized Martin Luther King's views. I did not say (or suggest) that King denied the existence of either the individual's right of self-defense or a people's right of revolution. He granted them, but decided against invoking them. Nor did I say (or suggest) that King was a thoroughgoing pacifist. Mr. Howard-Pitney is sensitive to my criticism of King, but he doesn't have the dimensions of it quite correct. Whereas Malcolm was relentlessly critical of King, my own objection is narrowly focused on those instances where King crossed the line from various forms of nonviolent direct action (speeches, boycotts, and marches are legal forms of citizen involvement in the political process, protected by the First Amendment) into "civil disobedience."
I think Malcolm X is right that there are only two options for protest: either the democratically prescribed modes of advancing justice or the last resort of revolution. Leaving aside the question of which of those Malcolm chose, it's clear that King believed the bullet was not warranted and I emphatically agree with his assessment. My conclusion then is that King himself and other reformers should have remained within the bounds of the law in their pursuit of better law. For the most part, King did (and I admire and honor what he achieved thereby), but not always. Worse, he penned a famous, and in my opinion profoundly flawed, argument for selective law-breaking. In our current canonization of King, we have forgotten that there were powerful black voices who challenged the theoretical and prudential soundness of this tactic—not only Malcolm X from the revolutionary side, but black leaders like Joseph H. Jackson (president of the National Baptist Convention) from the conservative side. Echoing Lincoln, Jackson insisted that "In our struggle for civil rights we must remain always in the main stream of American democracy.... We must stick to law and order, for as I have said in the past I say now, there are no problems in American life that cannot be solved through commitment to the highest laws of our land...I have not retreated from this position and never will as long as America is the America of the Federal Constitution and a land of due process of law" (see his "Annual Address, 1964" in What Country Have I?: Political Writings by Black Americans, edited by Herbert Storing). Martin Luther King was a statesman of great moral power, but his legacy is more mixed than many acknowledge.
Finally, with Peter Myers, whom I count as a friend and a first-rate scholar (see his books on Locke and Frederick Douglass), I am loath to tangle, especially since his reading of the essay and his response are perceptive and fair-minded. In a spirit of friendly inquiry, then, let me say a little more about Malcolm and Martin.
On Malcolm's rage and "bloody-mindedness": in general, my sympathies are with those African American leaders who have lifted themselves above hatred (no one manifests this more beautifully than Booker T. Washington when he declares: "I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him"). Malcolm's rage had the perverse effect of keeping him shackled to his oppressor. Whether he ever would have fully overcome this constriction of his soul, I don't know. As to the effect of his rage on others, however, it is interesting that very few of those enamored of his speeches were prepared to follow him into black nationalism. What they imbibed from Malcolm X was less his rage at the system and more his great love of his own (see Shelby Steele's testimonial, for instance). The main effect was not external—unleashing punitive anger at whites (which was what whites feared)—but internal—assuaging self-contempt. I think it's also the case that there was a comic note present in his verbal extremism (audio and video clips of him capture this better than the words on the page). Seeing his smile and hearing the laughter of the audience, you are more aware of the purgative effect of his performances. By the way, King himself did not regard the talk of violence from Malcolm and other "street-corner preachers" (which he dismissed as "the posturing of cowards") as responsible for the actual violence that broke out in American cities. He says "none of them has ever been able to start a riot. So far, only the police through their fears and prejudice have goaded our people to riot." And it was Martin Luther King, not Malcolm X, who went head-to-head (and often head-to-baton) with the police. It was the "nonviolent" King whose actions provoked segregationists into overt and shameful violence and whose death provoked the most widespread rioting in American history.
King was more efficacious for good, but because of his centrality, I find myself disappointed in those instances when he needlessly forfeited the moral high ground. Peter Myers grants that King misjudged the disintegrative effects of civil disobedience—the way it undermined law-abidingness and contributed to mob rule. His penultimate paragraph makes my point better than I did. My only objection is to the word "hindsight." It doesn't require hindsight to see the inevitably uncivil character of civil disobedience. Both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln warned repeatedly against it. Because King is now lauded for this departure from republican principle, a lasting confusion has been introduced into our understanding of what it means to be a good citizen.
Myers's citation of Frederick Douglass, rejecting the legality of the Fugitive Slave Act, gave me pause, since I admire Douglass immensely. In reply, one could say that not even Frederick the Great gets to pick and choose which enactments are binding and which are not. Some enactments require loyal citizens, as Lincoln said, to "crucify their feelings" until the unjust law is duly corrected or voided. (We should not forget that there is a properly constitutionalized form of "civil disobedience" available through the mechanism of judicial review; in the end, Rosa Parks broke no law.) But in fact, Douglass's brief for resistance was not parallel to King's. It was much more Malcolm-like, calling for "a good revolver, a steady hand, and a determination to shoot down any man attempting to kidnap" (italics in original). His justification was the indefeasible "original right of self-defense." Furthermore, like Malcolm, Douglass believed it was essential for blacks to refute the white view that blacks acquiesced in (and therefore deserved) their subjection. Thus, "every slavehunter who meets a bloody death in his infernal business, is an argument in favor of the manhood of our race. Resistance is, therefore, wise as well as just."
So, I'm back to the forked road. It is possible to resist injustice in a spirit of agape, but that means an unyielding commitment to operate through the frustratingly slow means of genuine persuasion of one's erring fellow citizens. On this saintly path, King occasionally took some ill-judged short cuts. The other path, of violent vindication, has its own form of heroism, though as Myers's mention of prudence makes clear, setting forth on that path depends decisively on an accurate judgment of the situation. Douglass's case in the 1850s was stronger than Malcolm X's in the 1950s. Though neither in the end resorted to arms, both took inspiration from, as Douglass put it, "the manly indifference to death, which characterized the Heroes of the American Revolution." Or, in Malcolm X's words, "Old Patrick Henry said ‘liberty or death'—that's extreme—very extreme."
* * *
Craig Lerner's misunderstanding of my book The Better Angels of Our Nature begins with his opening sentence, which has me proclaiming that human beings "are likely to become much more peaceable in the future than they are today" ("Have a Nice Millennium," Winter 2011/12). In fact my sentence notes that historical declines of violence are "not guaranteed to continue," a proviso reiterated throughout the book. But careful reading is no virtue to Lerner, who dismisses data that offend him with "horselaughs" and who repeatedly fails to notice that his personal hunches are contradicted by facts presented in the book.
Take the study that Lerner blows off with animal noises. Historians routinely speculate about how the personalities and intellects of political leaders affect their performance. Psychologist Dean Simonton has put these conjecture to rigorous tests by aggregating biographical data, content analyses of writings, multiple blind ratings, and other measures, and then subjecting them to meticulous assays for consistency, ideological bias, reliability, construct validity, and predictive validity. Lerner glanced at one of Simonton's tables and misinterpreted the numbers as "ludicrously precise estimates" of individual presidents' I.Q.s. He fails to understand that only the differences among numbers are intended as meaningful, not their absolute values, and even then only statistically; Simonton is admirably explicit about his rounding criteria and confidence intervals. No such rigor is evident in Lerner, who dismisses the higher number assigned to John F. Kennedy than to George W. Bush by citing a biographer's report of a lower I.Q. score for Kennedy. But that score came from a little-used test administered in 1930, when Kennedy was a 13-year-old boy, and it is not comparable with Simonton's numbers, which are based on very different measures designed to assure commensurability among all the presidents in his sample.
Lerner's contempt for data that don't confirm his prejudices is evident elsewhere. He conjectures that the postwar great-power peace could be a statistical fluke. But that possibility was tested and rejected 20 years ago, and the two subsequent decades without great-power wars have made it even unlikelier. He attributes the post-1992 crime decline entirely to America's imprisonment binge, but criminologists have disproved that possibility, noting, among other things, that states and countries without such a binge saw their rates decline at the same time. Also readily falsified is Lerner's claim that America prevents crime because of its unsurpassed wealth; the American homicide rate is far higher than those of many countries that are far poorer.
Lerner announces (once again without sources) that "if I.Q. scores are increasing, the effect appears to be small and concentrated in the less intelligent half of the population." This is simply wrong: James Flynn, who discovered the trend, has shown that the increases are massive (three I.Q. points per decade for almost a century), and in most data sets have shifted the entire bell curve, not just the left half.
Supposedly I am "ignorant of politics" because "an hour spent reading the Lincoln-Douglas debates would obliterate" the claim that political discourse became more complex during the 20th century. Here again Lerner favors cursory impressions over rigorous analysis. Putting aside the misplaced century, and the fact that I singled out senatorial, not presidential, debates, Lerner's observation merely shows that the most storied political debate in American history did not take place in the late 20th century. It does not show that in general the debates of that era were more sophisticated than those of later eras. Mathematically, a single data point can neither establish nor disprove a trend, and Lerner fails to mention the quantitative analysis of 20th-century senate speeches by James Rosenau and Michael Fagen that did establish such a trend.
Lerner is equally sloppy in his attribution of ideas. He thinks it is "an opaque concession" on my part that I recount an anecdote implying that "human beings in general, and young men in particular, find something innately gratifying about besting others in physical confrontations." How did he miss the lengthy discussion (reiterated in many other passages) in which I defend exactly this hypothesis?
As for the possibility that such traits could be genetically engineered out of us, it is true that I do not discuss this science-fiction scenario in Better Angels. I have, though, explained in several articles (and in testimony to the President's Council on Bioethics) why it is extraordinarily unlikely. Single genes with large and solely beneficial effects probably do not exist, and even if a candidate turned up, it would be unethical to endanger a child by trying it out.
In the final paragraph, Lerner reveals what is eating him: that I depict "a world in which human rights are unanchored by a sense of the sacredness and dignity of human life, but where peace and harmony nonetheless emerge." In fact I repeatedly attribute declines in organized violence to the ascendancy of human rights, anchored in an increased valuation of human life. True, I don't use the terms "sacredness" and "dignity," because they have become code words for theo-conservative causes such as the criminalization of abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. The many declines of violence I document which have unfolded independently of (and sometimes in the teeth of opposition from) religious institutions does not sit well with the theo-conservative agenda.
Craig S. Lerner replies:
Steven Pinker's misunderstanding of my review is evident from the first sentence of his letter, in which I am quoted summarizing his position that the future will likely be more peaceful and then accused of suggesting that he has guaranteed this happy result.
The touted presidential I.Q. study weighs in at 16 pages. Blinkered by prejudice, I couldn't find the "rigorous tests" and "multiple blind ratings" that support the conclusion that Chester Arthur's I.Q. surpassed that of Abraham Lincoln by 2.3 points. So I plead guilty to discounting any academic model that produces such a risible result. Pinker, meanwhile, dismisses JFK's tested I.Q. as a boyhood trifle, but surely he is familiar with studies demonstrating that scores by age 13 are predictive of adult results. Is it possible that Kennedy, glib flatterer of intellectuals, had a lower I.Q. than George W. Bush, evangelical Christian? This is where the data takes us, if, alas, we are open to facts that challenge our prejudices.
I never attributed the entirety of America's crime reduction to its high incarceration rate. My point was that this was one factor contributing to this fortunate development, and our national wealth allowed policymakers to adopt such a costly approach to reducing crime. On this intuitive point, let me quote Pinker himself: "Unlike the more gimmicky theories of the crime decline, massive imprisonment is almost certain to lower crime rates because the mechanism by which it operates has so few moving parts" (The Better Angels of Our Nature, p. 122). Perhaps in the months since the book's publication Pinker has adopted such gimmicky theories. With respect to his newly minted argument, it is true that crime rates have generally receded in the Western world, but one study found that America ranked first or second in every crime category, compared to seven nations, in the rate of decline. Consider also that from 1981 (when incarceration rates began soaring in America) and 1996, rates of robbery and burglary fell by 28% and 55% here, while comparable rates in England rose by 81% and 103%.
James Flynn is a serious scholar, and my skepticism about the Effect that carries his name is of no consequence, but more significant are the criticisms of Linda Gottfredson, a scientist whom Pinker has praised and cited. Rising I.Q. scores, if real (and recent studies in Norway, Denmark, and England have suggested leveling and even declines), may have reflected more adept test-taking skills, not a genuine ascent of human reason. Furthermore, a recent Spanish study found that increases in schoolchildren tested in 1970 and 1999 were concentrated on the left half of the bell curve and virtually nil at the far right. Nutritional advances and the permeation of even the basest popular culture may have been cognitively enriching for less intelligent men and women, but these influences appear to have generated smaller, if any, gains for their more intelligent peers. It is indeed possible that the rate of human genius has declined over the past 200 years.
Pinker assures us that he is not ignorant of politics, but he apparently thinks the Lincoln-Douglas debates occurred during a presidential campaign. Leaving aside misgivings about the methodology of the Rosenau and Fagen study, I simply note that they conclude that for members of Congress "overall performance...showed no discernible increase in integrative complexity over the fifty- to sixty-year time frame," which directly conflicts with what Pinker represents they say.
Pinker's letter confirms his combativeness, but raises questions about his objectivity. Perhaps the final paragraph reveals what has excited his ire and imperiled his critical faculties—my invocation of quaint notions such as sacredness and human dignity. Let me concede that "human dignity" can be the sort of flim-flam invoked by persons who lack good arguments. (It is often bandied about by European constitutional courts.) That said, Pinker's assurances that it is impossible to re-engineer the human genome to expunge violent impulses does not dispose of the problem. Discrete genetic tinkering is foreseeable, and so is the further development of psychoactive substances to alter mood and consciousness. What is to guide such experimentation? From where does Pinker summon this "ethics" to constrain us? Why not numb ourselves and our children to that lust for glory that so often produces violence? Would the "human rights" trumpeted by Pinker be secure when there ceased to be any notion of what it means to be human? What would a society that internalized Pinker's mockery of "sacredness" look like? Or is such an attitude unlikely to extend beyond an elite caste? Could a fraying of society along these lines jeopardize the awareness and even reality of human equality that, Pinker stipulates, has promoted the reduction of violence? Such concerns cannot be marginalized as "theo-conservative"; some of them are explored, for example, in the bracing final chapter of the recent book The Ego Tunnel by the German neuroscientist Thomas Metzinger (an atheist with no discernible political agenda). The intemperate refusal to acknowledge the gravity of such issues is disappointing in a man of Steven Pinker's formidable intelligence and imagination.
* * *
How We Fight
In "How Wars End," Colin Dueck misrepresents the bargaining model of war, some of the central arguments in my book, and the study of war termination (Winter 2011/12). The bargaining model of war does not incorporate the liberal "assumption...that warfare is inherently irrational and explicable only [as] some sort of cognitive or institutional dysfunction." Rather, the bargaining model states, among other things, that if two sides in disagreement knew who would win a hypothetical war between them, it would be rational for them not to fight and instead accept the war-ending peace deal they would have reached if they had fought. That way, both sides get the political outcome each would have gotten if war had occurred, but each avoids paying the costs of fighting. The bargaining model does not assume that peace agreements are always desired, or that anything getting in the way of such agreements is "to be deplored," as Dueck asserts. It is a scientific theory of war, and as such makes no judgments as to whether or not peace or war is normatively desirable.
My book How Wars End is a scientific work, focused on questions of how leaders "do" behave, rather than casting judgments on how they "should" behave. It does not attempt to answer questions such as "Should the Union have fought the Civil War?" but rather examines questions such as, "Once the Civil War began, why was the Union willing to fight on even when the combat outlook was bleak?"
Dueck misunderstands both the historical nature of war termination, and the academic scholarship on war termination. He dichotomizes war outcomes between either giving "whatever the other side wants, or persever[ing] and escalat[ing] until one forces concessions or surrender on the other side." To the contrary, many wars end in what Carl von Clausewitz called "real war" rather than "absolute war," with each side making concessions. Dueck also is under the odd impression that academic writings dismiss "as necessarily futile, counter-productive, and war-mongering" the approach of fighting to achieve concessions. It is regrettable that a lay reader of this publication might come away from Dueck's essay with the impression that academia is crawling with craven appeasers whose scholarly work is contaminated with radical pacifism.
In his essay, Colin Dueck (mis)applies the political science literature about war termination—including my book Paths to Peace—as a framing device for his critique of the Obama Administration's policies in its conflict with al-Qaeda and the current war in Afghanistan.
What's more, the factors that impede the two sides in a conflict from coming to terms are not simply "dysfunctions" as Dueck suggests. In my book, I outline three reasons why a war, once launched, is difficult to end: leaders do not want to end the war, leaders do not know they should end the war, or leaders want to end the war but cannot. Examining all interstate wars since 1862, I found that the longer a war continues, the harder it is to end it, because domestic obstacles to peace become institutionalized over time.
In light of his essay's topic, Dueck might have considered the related literature about ending civil wars (and other conflicts with non-nation state actors). The findings of that scholarship could be much more appropriately applied to the critique of the Obama Administration's policy in Afghanistan. Contrary to what Dueck argued, but in line with my findings with interstate war, recent scholarship in this literature argues that unless there is a quick military victory for either side, civil wars are less likely to end with military victory and more likely to end in negotiated settlement. Rebels do not mind waiting in order to benefit from prolonged war. The greatest difference between civil and interstate war termination seems to be the magnitude of the obstacles to peace. All three obstacles seem to be more severe in civil war, implying that internal conflicts are more likely to last longer than interstate wars.
How does this data compare with the war in Afghanistan? In general, the severity of the three obstacles in internal conflicts would suggest that such wars are likely to be more protracted than interstate wars—and empirically, this is the case. But this doesn't mean that the conflicts will end when one side wins, as Dueck argues. Indeed, given how long the conflicts have already lasted, it is unlikely that a unilateral victory will occur in either conflict—and U.S. decision-makers would be wise to keep this in mind. Empirical evidence suggests that the longer war continues, the more likely a governing coalition shift will be needed to end it. In Afghanistan, it is more likely that such a war-ending coalition shift will come from a change in the Obama Administration or in the Afghani government than in a change in the leadership of the other warring factions. This speculation is based on another important finding from the civil war termination literature—that insurgent groups tend to maintain the same leadership even over long participation in conflicts. Jonas Zavimbi, for example, led the Union for the Total Liberation of Angola (UNITA) for more than 30 years until he was killed in 2002; the rebel group signed a cease-fire within six weeks after his death, ending the 27-year-long Angolan civil war. Although we could classify Osama bin Laden's death as a shift in al-Qaeda's governing coalition, we have seen no change in the group's goals or willingness to make concessions. Al-Qaeda's preference for war remains firmly entrenched; as long as it does, we are unlikely to see an ending to that conflict until the group disbands or implodes from internal fractionalization or loss of wider popular support.
Elizabeth A. Stanley
Colin Dueck completely misses the point of my book How Terrorism Ends: that strategists should objectively examine the endings of terrorist campaigns to determine which patterns fit, and then pursue them. Force does not spontaneously deliver victory to the morally superior. This is as true of the war against al-Qaeda as any other. In addition to urging on one's own troops, we must identify the enemy's vulnerabilities and exploit them. So, the reason to push toward the end of terrorist campaigns like al-Qaeda's is not because of specious liberal bias, misunderstandings, self-blame, or craven weakness; it is because that is how we win.
Omitting the core of my book is odd, as it supports some points made in other sections of Dueck's essay. My book is an analysis of how terrorist campaigns end, using quantitative and qualitative methods to examine some 450 groups. I find that there are six patterns of endings that apply to different campaigns under different conditions, and thoroughly examine each of those patterns. Frankly, I am not sure he read the whole book.
Dueck writes: "Indeed, one of her main concerns is that governments unintentionally encourage more terrorism through violent over-reaction." No serious researcher would make such a claim, as it requires proof of the counterfactual—what a terrorist campaign might have looked like in the absence of repression. It is followed by "This is like saying that a woman who forcibly defends herself against rape is no better than the rapist." Shall we have cops or soldiers shoot rapists on sight? It's a specious comparison.
Regarding targeted killing, Dueck mischaracterizes my argument as follows: "Indeed, she goes so far as to say that governments that directly target terrorists by force are no better morally than the terrorists." I do not equate terrorists with counterterrorists, neither in my book nor in the years I have spent working in the Department of Defense. Would I have devoted much of my life to U.S. policymaking if that were so? Here is what I actually wrote: "Although terrorism is always abhorrent and wrong, it is both an ethical and a strategic error to assume that retaliatory killings by those associated with the victims' state are therefore ipso facto legitimate." Dueck implies that the state is always right, that there are no legitimate grounds upon which to appraise state targeting.
Given the number of campaigns that I cover, it seems peculiar that only Islamist terrorists, Russia, and Israel gain mention in the review. With regard to the latter, I do not chastise Israel's use of force (as Dueck claims) only question whether it has been successful. The Israelis are arguably the best counterterrorist tacticians in the world; but their long-term strategic planning is open to question.
Finally, Dueck's assertion that "millions of other Muslims internationally continue to sympathize with not only the goals but the tactics of al-Qaeda" would be more convincing if it were actually supported by facts. The remarkable thing in recent years has been the sharp downturn in popular support among Muslims for al-Qaeda, as a casual perusal of the Pew Global Attitudes Project's public opinion figures would reveal.
Inflammatory comments about moral equivalency and rapists may make for stimulating prose but they have no connection to rigorous analysis or effective counterterrorism, which shifts the focus in ending wars from the tactical to the strategic.
Audrey Kurth Cronin
George Mason University
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Built to Last
In his review of Henry Reed's book on the architecture of the New York Public Library, Michael J. Lewis notes the startling fact that the building's grand style was utterly discredited within a mere 40 years after the library's dedication in 1911 ("Classical Triumph," Winter 2011/12). The ornate and magnificent mode of design, rooted in ancient times, was overthrown in a flash, and the leading architects of today remain utterly oblivious of classical precedents, and indeed of any precedents.
The rejection of the past is based on a familiar theory: that each age generates its unique style, and that the borrowing by one period from another is dishonest or foolish. Architects of the 1950s built the Lever House and the Seagram building on the basis of this doctrine, landmarks which owe nothing to the past, and which stand in stark contrast to the marble grandeur of the NYPL.
But if precedents are worthless, how should the architect (or Starchitect) proceed? Should his mere whims prevail (as they clearly have in certain recent cases)? And if the buildings such as the NYPL are outmoded, then why bother to maintain them? Shouldn't they be allowed to decay so that they can be replaced with proper modern buildings?
The resulting deadlock of ideas has produced a no man's land. When the New York Public Library was dedicated, architecture was a major current in American life, often discussed in leading journals. The subject rarely appears nowadays and few people are willing to challenge the modernist doctrine. Henry Reed's new book (like his others) points to a way out of the deadlock, urging us to let the works of the past guide the creation of new works for a new time. Perhaps one day the message will get through.
New York, NY