Over at Foreign Affairs, Ryan Haas and Jude Blanchette have published an interesting argument. Hass and Blanchette are worried that the United States and China are needlessly inching towards armed conflict over Taiwan because of the two powers’ shared belief that “the hard questions at the root of the confrontation” can only be solved by a military settlement. In contrast, Hass and Blanchette argue that “sometimes the best policy is to avoid bringing intractable challenges to a head and kick the can down the road instead.” Implicit in Hass and Blanchette’s framing is the belief the United States controls the pace of the can-kicking. Decision makers in Washington, not Beijing or Taipei, will determine the character of their triangular tango. The reasons for this conclusion are laid out plainly: the United States has the power to constrain Taiwanese behavior, while the Chinese, who understand that the costs of a conflict will prove ruinous even in victory, will stage no campaign unless backed into a corner. It is America that will choose whether the can is kicked into that corner or whether it is kicked further down the road.
Haas and Blanchette’s case is cogent and clearly argued. Some of its particulars—such as their warning to avoid symbolics “that would aggravate Beijing without improving security in the Taiwan Strait” (e.g. Pelosi’s recent stunt)—are especially persuasive. But Haas and Blanchette’s larger argument only is compelling if we think crisis can be kicked down the road—and kicked down it ad infinitum. It is not clear to me that this is possible.
A few months ago Jonathan Haidt made waves with a big think-piece in the Atlantic arguing that most of the ills of the 2010s can be traced back to the invention of the retweet button. I read the essay and disagreed with it vociferously. Today City Journal published my critique. You can read my counter essay here. Below I would like to add some additional thoughts on social media and American politics that could not fit into that piece.
The most popular thing I published last year was the essay “On Cultures That Build.” In that essay I argued that “in the 21st century, the main question in American social life is not ‘how do we make that happen?’ but ‘how do we get management to take our side?’ This is a learned response, and a culture which has internalized it will not be a culture that ‘builds.’”θ
In this week’s edition of City Journal I have a follow up of a sort to that essay. I begin this new essay with what might seem like an entirely unrelated question: why is speculative “Young Adult” fiction the most popular genre of 21st century America?
In the world of conservative thought, the intellectual energy lies with the New Right. The New Right can be found in the society of Washington wonks, Silicon Valley dissidents, New York writers, and all manner of GOP politicos. Many served in the Trump administration at one level or another; all are interested in taking the […]
Image Source It would take gods to give men laws. —Jean-Jacques Rousseau  This is going to be one of those essays where I throw a lot of things on the wall and see what sticks. We are going to range today from the American Revolution to Cambodian spirits to hunter-gatherer conceptions of authority to […]
Image source Last month there was a minor hullabaloo about the latest entry in the “Kennan Sweepstakes,” a long document published by the Atlantic Council titled “The Longer Telegram.”1 I read it three times. I did not like it. This week Foreign Policy gave me some column space to explain why. I will note here […]
Samuel Cohn’s Epidemics: Hate and Compassion from the Plague of Athens to AIDS is true door-stop of a book, encyclopedic in ambition, coming in at a full 650 pages of prose and citations. In a new book review over at the Washington Examiner I describe the book’s origins: In the summer of 2009, Samuel Cohn, […]
Earlier this year I published a series of notes under the title “On Cultures That Build.” The thesis of that piece (the most popular thing I have written for any publication this year) was that both innovation and institutional capacity are at least partially a product of social training and cultural experience. Americans were once […]
Photo by Katelynn & Jordan Hewlett (15 August 2020). Source. It inevitably will be asked why advanced industrial America has so violent a history, but this is not, I think, either as difficult or as interesting as another question: How could America have combined such a substantial degree of popular domestic violence with such a high […]