Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Editor’s Column Fall 1999

Editor’s Column Fall 1999

Francis Fukuyama, revisiting his provocative thesis regarding “the end of history” in The National Interest, now admits that his formulation was in fact wrong, but not for any of the reasons advanced by his critics. Rather, the dialectical movement of history will continue so long as Western science marches on, and will “end” only when and if bioengineering succeeds in altering human nature itself: “the last man in a bottle.” At that point the story of Homo sapiens will assuredly terminate, and a brave new “post-human” era will commence. Given the progress made toward cloning and test-tube babies, perhaps Gene Rodenberry’s original Star Trek television series was only a bit premature when its scripts referred to the genetic wars of the 1990s, fought between old-fashioned people and a race of manufactured superhumans. Certainly, as one looks back on the twentieth century, it seems that Aldous Huxley’s abundant, indulgent, and bioengineered Brave New World is a more likely prophecy than the enforced poverty and merely industrial-age thought control of George Orwell’s 1984. For all his brilliance, what Orwell could not imagine in the late 1940s was that totalitarianism need not be Stalinist, but could end in a “friendly fascism” dispensing untold prosperity and sensual pleasure to the masses in exchange, of course, for their untidy liberty.

At Orbis, however, we shall spurn the temptation to use Y2K as an excuse to speculate about metaphysical millennia, whether utopian or dystopian, or to fabricate “top ten” lists of the past hundred or thousand years. Instead, we ask only what challenges are likely to face American policymakers in the first decade or two of the new century, because laying the foundations for “a generation of peace,” to borrow Henry Kissinger’s phrase, is the most one can hope to achieve . . . human nature being what it is.

In These Pages

Wise heads, including Samuel Huntington and Irving Kristol, have suggested that the most pressing challenge to U.S. foreign policy in the forthcoming era may be internal. Observing how global rivalry appears to be reconstituting itself along civilizational fault lines, Huntington warned that the West seemingly hegemonic in the wake of communism’s demise may fail to defend itself and its values abroad if it surrenders to “multiculturalist” attacks on its values at home. Kristol, in turn, identified the most immediate threats to American security as the illegal immigrants and drugs invading the United States from the south, especially from Mexico. Thus, even as American forces intervene worldwide, causing pundits to debate the wisdom of “enlargement” and worry about U.S. relations with China and Russia, it may be that America’s future as a superpower will be decided by the outcome of her domestic culture wars.

What few “culture warriors” on either side of the trenches recognize, however, is that multiculturalism is not just a slogan of the politically correct, or an ideology, or a social pathology born of careless immigration policies. Multiculturalism is a natural historical phenomenon that has characterized almost every great empire and center of civilization since the beginning of recorded time. Centers of creativity and wealth, from ancient Sumer to London, Paris, and New York today, invariably attract peoples from the periphery who arrive as immigrants, sojourners, or slaves to do menial labor for the rich and mighty and share in their prosperity and culture, even as they retain much of their old cultures. It is the more or less homogeneous national state that is the recent, and perhaps ephemeral, novelty. So what is required to move our current debate forward is not more polemics about assimilation, bilingual education, and globalization, but hard thinking about how other empires throughout history have encouraged or discouraged multiculturalism, reaped its awards or suffered its drawbacks, and dealt well or poorly with the challenges posed when increasing numbers of “strangers” live in their midst. A recent Foreign Policy Research Institute History Academy asked a distinguished panel of scholars to engage in such hard thinking, and Orbis is pleased to share the results in these pages. For just as this century began with the United States in the throes of a tidal wave of immigration, concern over “hyphenated Americans,” and debate over whether the “melting pot” still functioned, so too does it end.

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese begins by deconstructing the ideology of multiculturalism, demonstrating why its promoters themselves are not genuinely multicultural at all, and then defining the multicultural realities which public policy needs to engage. Next, William H. McNeill, the dean of world historians, carries us back to the Fertile Crescent at the dawn of civilization and illuminates the patterns of cultural mixing, borrowing, coexistence, and conflict that have shaped the history of all civilizations. When does multicultural overload erode the strength of an empire, and what have ruling elites done in the past to avoid that? Three fascinating case studies provide three different models: David Gress describes the attitudes toward other cultures that characterized ancient Hellenic and Roman civilization; Stanley Wolpert examines the evolution of India, arguably the most multicultural civilization on earth; and June Teufel Dreyer analyzes China, a civilization defined by its dominant cultural paradigm and hence the least multicultural of all. Finally, the editor meditates on the necessity, but also the pitfalls, of taking a multicultural approach to history in the classroom.

Three more post-Cold War conundrums that remain unsolved as the century expires are Russia’s quest to retain military prestige on the international scene, what the United States, NATO, or the United Nations can and should do about burgeoning ethnic conflicts, and the inability of American conservatives to reach a consensus over the U.S. role in a world without rivals. Richard Staar, a long-time observer of Russia, reveals a Russian document detailing plans to revive the military by spending billions of dollars on production and research and development. Veteran diplomat Chester Crocker applies his experience and insight to the problem of ethnic violence. And Michael Noonan discovers through a comprehensive survey just what the conservative, neoconservative, and libertarian wings of the American Right think about foreign and defense issues in advance of the 2000 campaign. Rounding out this last issue of the century are three review essays of more than usual interest. Harvey Sicherman tells why he thinks Warren Christopher’s and Richard Holbrooke’s tortured attempts to provide a logic behind the Clinton administration’s foreign policy in fact reveal the haphazardness of its policy process. David Eisenhower brings his perspectives as an historian and an insider to Henry Kissinger’s third volume of memoirs. And Paul Hollander asks why, now that communism resides on the ash heap of history, the American Left is still carrying a candle for Karl Marx.

Night Thoughts of an I.R. Professor

In this era of rapid and massive movement of people, ideas, and goods around the globe, it is stunning to think that the famous “Golden Spike” ceremony marking completion of America’s first transcontinental railway occurred just 130 years ago, in 1869. William H. Seward, having retired after eight years as secretary of state and embarked on a round-the-world tour, imagined what a boon this engineering feat would be for the United States and the Pacific Rim, and predicted that Chicago would now become a great “Pacific port.” During my research for Let the Sea Make a Noise: A History of the North Pacific From Magellan to MacArthur, I was struck by how differently the story of the transcontinental railway is told in books and videos today than when I was a child. Back then, it was a triumph of the American spirit and nation-building, and the roles played by an enlightened federal government, visionary businessmen, and doughty immigrant labor; Irish and Chinese especially were extolled.

Today, the major theme of the story is always corruption, with the “Big Four” promoters of the Central Pacific Collis P. Huntington, Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins portrayed as robber barons who manipulated Congress, stock jobbed on Wall Street, monopolized contracts and profits through a pyramid of dummy corporations, exploited their workers, and generally swindled the public. But so great were the magnitude of what they achieved, the risks they took, and the energy and determination they displayed that I was moved to suggest that theirs was a “creative corruption,” and that perhaps such creative corruption is a characteristic trait of great nations. Other, less dynamic countries may exhibit creativity, but are insufficiently corrupt to get things done, or are comfortably corrupt, but not creative. Proudhon defined all property as theft and said that every fortune was built on a crime. Perhaps he was right. After all, it was he who correctly recognized that whereas capitalism was the exploitation of the weak by the strong, communism would be the exploitation of the strong by the weak: uncreative corruption.

I write these words overlooking the beach on Kiawah Island, just below Charleston, South Carolina. Though not as large or well known as Hilton Head, Kiawah and its sister Seabrook are among the lush resort communities built on the “sea islands” of the Carolinas and Georgia from the 1960s to 1980s. Entire islands of many square miles, once miserably poor and isolated, bereft of plumbing and electricity, and home only to Low Country wildlife and swamp-dwelling, “gullah”-speaking fishermen, have been terra-formed (to borrow a term from the spaceflight enthusiasts who dream of making Mars habitable) into perfectly landscaped, high-rent condominium communities with Jack Nicklaus golf courses and all the amenities. I asked myself, how was it done? Who raised the capital for developments of such gigantic proportions? Who issued the licenses and passed on the myriad of environmental protection statements? How many labor unions and citizens’ groups had to be cut in or bought off to win their approbation or silence? What local, state, and federal laws had to be circumvented or changed? How were the thousands of lucrative contracts drawn up, and how was it decided who would get them? Who bid on all the local monopolies such beach resorts create everything from bicycle rentals to pizza delivery and how were the winners selected? What is the corporate structure of all the “Inc.’s” involved, and what human beings lurk behind their facades? Now, I do not suggest that anything illegal was involved in the development of the sea island resorts. What is more, I have no doubt they contribute mightily to the well-being of the Low Country, from the wealthiest patrician to the poorest crabber. But I cannot help but wonder at the magnitude and multitude of deals that had to be swung to make it all possible.

Corruption. The great English historian Edward Gibbon called corruption the most infallible symptom of constitutional liberty. Given human nature, the more freedom a society enjoys, the more mischief it will engender. James Madison and the Founding Fathers took for granted the corruption of government by business, and business by government, and tried to design a federal system of checks and balances so that corruption could be contained and could even work to preserve rather than efface American liberties. For how can any polity suppress corruption except by decreeing so many laws, and enforcing them with such martial rigor, that individual freedom is crushed? Corruptiora res publica plurimae leges, goes the old Roman saying: the more corrupt the republic, the more laws it will have. And that is why the motto of the University of Pennsylvania, sine moribus leges vanae, remains an eloquent civic sermon: without morals, laws are in vain.

Corruption has been a perennial in American domestic politics, of course, since the days of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, the “outs” always accusing the “ins” of abuses of power and then replicating their sins once in office. What is new in 1999 is the theme of corruption in world politics, a theme raised, not surprisingly, by moralistic Americans who insist on their calling to reform the whole human race. The campaign began in the fall of 1998 when Vice President Gore took the occasion of a meeting of Asia-Pacific states to lecture his Malaysian hosts on the need “to root out corruption and cronyism” and then announced plans for a major international conference on the issue. “Tragically,” he said, “our best world-wide efforts to build stronger economies and stronger democracies are sometimes undercut by corruption and no corruption is more evil and destructive than the corruption of government officials.” To be sure, in the wake of the Asian financial collapse and the turmoil in Indonesia, no one denied the role played by self-serving officials and collusion of all sorts in the pricking of the Pacific Rim bubble. But the Wall Street Journal was skeptical of Gore’s plan for a global crusade against corruption, given the elasticity of the concept (what is corruption, and does it vary according to culture?), the clouds hanging over the Clinton/Gore administration itself with regard to campaign finance and the impeachment proceedings, and the fact that the organizers of Gore’s global conference were content to let (presumably corrupt) governments select their own representatives, which was akin to inviting Al Capone to name delegates to a conference on organized crime. Still, Gore could count on determined support from an anti-corruption lobby called Transparency International, which monitors and somehow quantifies levels of corruption in the nations of the world and promotes cooperative efforts to reduce it. “I think everybody recognizes that this is the issue of the moment,” said the group’s managing director. “Not that it’s chic, but that it’s actually important.”

So what exactly is corruption, and how damaging (or creative) can it be? The answer is, nobody knows. Even Transparency International does not claim to measure corruption, but rather the perceptions of corruption in various countries as expressed by foreign business people. Which business people, we do not learn, but one can assume that most of them hail from North America and Europe and perhaps Japan, which would automatically impose a Western standard of corruption on the sample. (Assuming the people polled tell the truth at all: would a company known to do lucrative business abroad confess openly to the “corruption” it had to accommodate?) But even Westerners are not in agreement on what the word means. To be “corrupt” technically means to be tarnished or rendered impure, changed from a healthy or normal to a putrid or aberrant condition. Thus, nothing is really corrupt unless it was once pristine. And since even American government or business was never in a state of grace one can no more denounce Lockheed as “corrupt” for bribing foreign officials than one can speak of corruption in China, where bribes have been an accepted cost of doing business (and compensating low-paid officials) for three thousand years. Is it corrupt for Japanese keiretsu to have special ties to the banks that finance them, or to “conspire” with government agencies regarding research and development, pricing, and the sharing of markets with other Japanese firms? Not only are such arrangements considered natural and indeed patriotic by Japanese, they are precisely the sorts of arrangements that helped any number of British and American companies to develop new technologies and dominate markets during their industrial revolutions.

Likewise, American notions of what is “corrupt” are both recent and constantly changing. Today, textbooks ritually condemn John D. Rockefeller as a ruthless monopolist, but he was not condemned at the time and he even considered his wealth as a sign of God’s blessing on a son “in whom He is well pleased.” Americans simply decided, during the Progressive Era, that certain practices should be labeled “corrupt” and laws passed against them. In the 1970s they decided that their corporations ought not to bribe foreign officials (thereby ensuring that American bidders would lose a number of lucrative contracts to less scrupulous competitors), and in the 1990s Americans decided, retroactively, that their tobacco companies had engaged in “corrupt” marketing practices. That must amuse the many governments around the globe that promote, tax, and in many cases own the tobacco (and liquor and firearms) industries in their countries.

How, then, to define corruption? As business practices that the governing elite considers “unfair”? As government practices that some businesses consider “unfair”? As government/business collusion that a portion of the public considers “unfair”? And how can one standard of corruption be established among nations all of whom are at different stages of development and inheritors of different moral and legal traditions? To judge from the Transparency International survey, the standard we all ought to choose is clear: it is that of Denmark. The Danes score a perfect 10 as the least “corrupt” people on earth. How wonderful of them. But what does that mean? Is it that Danes have invented “the most perfect union” in terms of their laws? Or is it that Danish law is no better than others’ but that Danes are the most self-policed people on earth? And if the latter, why is that so? The answer would certainly seem to be cultural, because the second and third “least corrupt” nations Finland and Sweden and five of the top ten are Scandinavian as well. Northern Europe accounts for the rest of the top ten, too, if one includes Canada, New Zealand, and Singapore as offshoots off Britain. The United States ranks seventeenth: not bad, but hardly good enough to justify arrogating to itself the roles of preacher and judge.

Especially in light of the events of 1999. No sooner did the vice president sound the tocsin against corruption than the International Olympic Committee (IOC) scandal broke. It seems that the promoters of Salt Lake City, in order to win the 2002 Winter Olympics for their city, systematically bribed the members of the IOC, a body otherwise devoted to probity and fair competition. “How could it happen here, with our high moral standards?” asked the mayor. The answer is that the winner stood to rake in $2.8 billion for its local economy. By comparison a few million dollars in payoffs was chump change, and in any case, the investigation revealed, “everybody did it” and had done so for decades. Were even the Olympic Games therefore corrupt? Not necessarily, concluded the New York Times, because “the assistance was in a gray area between ethical and unethical.” And in a sense, it was. Consider that many of the IOC delegates are from countries like Sudan, Togo, Mauritius, Mongolia, Algeria, and Swaziland hardly the millionaire sportsmen one might imagine as being “incorruptible.” Such delegates found irresistible Salt Lake City’s offers of grants for educational and cultural projects for their countries, not to mention luxurious travel, entertainment, and career opportunities for themselves and their families. And why should they resist? Do not churches “persuade” Third World bishops to take certain theological positions by making contributions to their impoverished dioceses? Does not the State Department “persuade” Third World governments to vote this way or that in the United Nations by dispensing international development funds? Did China fail to get the 2000 Olympics (in another notorious decision of the IOC), not because of Tiananmen Square, but because it hadn’t spread around enough cash? And did that humiliating loss of face contribute to China’s sudden interest in the campaign coffers of American politicians? Let’s face it, concluded journalist Christopher Caldwell, Salt Lake City and other such scandals are not shocking outbursts of corruption: they are “the American Way. It’s what always happens when big money and big government cross paths. The ‘gray area between ethical and unethical’ is where our society has its being.”

So do all other societies, but as Glenn R. Simpson has wryly concluded, “Sooner or later, the issue of who is doing the corrupting is also going to come up. The big players on the ‘supply side’ of the corruption question . . . come from the countries with the money. Like the U.S.” And, one may add, the Europeans, who were “shocked, shocked” this year by the resignation en masse of the European Union’s executive commission after revelations of institutionalized nepotism. The scandals “make us look like hypocrites,” lamented one businessman concerned about corruption in Asia, and another was forced to backtrack on his anti-corruption efforts: “This isn’t a stone-throwing contest.” But Dean Ho, chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, drew the most useful conclusion. The West should refrain from setting itself up as an example and just encourage foreign businesses to set their own standards of permissible conduct and then adhere to them. That way, no one is pretending to be holier than thou, and everyone will know just where they stand when they seek to do business abroad.

The questions that remain after Gore’s abortive War on Corruption are just what corruption is, and how much damage it does. The former, as we have seen, is an invitation to contemplate one’s navel, if not one’s conscience. But the latter is pertinent. For all their unseemliness, Salt Lake City’s bribes hurt no one except the promoters and residents of whatever city was runner-up for the Olympics. The baksheesh demanded by an impecunious minor official in Cameroon (ranked the world’s “most corrupt country”) in exchange for his placing an order with XYZ, Inc., instead of UVW, Ltd., likewise hurts no one except the losing firm’s employees and stockholders. The systematic raiding of a nation’s wealth, on the other hand, as happened in Indonesia and Zaire and is evidently occurring in Russia (tenth “most corrupt country”), can have catastrophic political, economic, and humanitarian consequences. That is the sort of corruption that needs to be addressed: the sort of governmental gangsterism that is anathema under the moral codes of all cultures. But how can the international community identify “gangster regimes”? Suharto’s Indonesia, after all, was considered a model of booming development just a few years ago. And how can the international community unite to deter, punish, or even discourage such regimes? The United States, after all, was pleased to do business with Mobutu and Marcos for decades because it served U.S. political interests. The obvious place to turn, it would seem, would be the global financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, to which almost all nations already belong, and which are so often called upon to clear up the wreckage after a hyper-corrupt nation collapses. But when asked about corruption in light of the Asian crisis, all the World Bank’s spokesperson could suggest was that “changes need to be made.” That, as the business school professor says in the commercial, won’t feed the bulldog.

Unless and until bioengineering does change human nature, as Fukuyama speculates may someday happen, corruption will not only be universal, it may also be necessary to get certain things, especially the big things, done in this world. For creative corruption is what seems to create wealth and power. Too bad that the love of wealth is, in turn, the root of all evil. Too bad that power, once achieved, tends to corrupt.