“Spot the doctrine”

06.04.2016 |

by Ralph Pettman


In this lesson, you’ll learn to play “spot the doctrine.” You’ll learn to identify what those who analyze and practice world affairs promoteand what they don’t.

Consider the following statement: “States like these [Iran, Iraq, North Korea] constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world…. America will do what is necessary to ensure…[its] security.” What approach is the speaker promoting? What approach is the speaker not promoting? First, the speaker is focusing on states. This is the first dimension of world affairs. There’s no mention of the economic or civic dimensions or the materialist and mentalist ones. There’s no mention of women or the environment. There’s nothing about the limits built into the rationalistic nature of the English being used. Second, the speaker is pessimistic about human nature. There are bad states, it seems, and they’re a threat to the world. America must protect itself to stay safe.

The speaker is a realist. He’s former US President George W. Bush. The quote was part of his State of the Union Address on January 29, 2002. As a realist, President Bush pays no attention to the sixteen other ways in which world affairs can be described and explainedor critiques of the rationalism that underpins them. All of these alternatives have something significant to say. President Bush is not interested in any of them. He’s only interested in the realist approach. This is not to say that the realist approach is wrong. It’s only partly right, however. It’s only part of the truth about how world affairs work. It’s not the whole truth, and as such, it can only take the listener so far.

Take another statement: “Today, old adversaries are at peace…. New markets stretch from Asia to the Americas. Billions of young people want to move beyond the shackles of poverty and conflict…. [We] will do more than just defeat on the battlefield those who offer hatred…. [W]e will also lead among those who are willing to work together to expand freedom and opportunity.”

This speech was made by US President Barack Obama on August 31, 2010. It also focuses on states, but it focuses on markets too, as well as on the importance of global poverty. Obama wants to cooperate. He wants to “work together.” He’s an internationalist. He sees the world in tit-for-tat as well as dog-eat-dog terms. That being said, there’s still a wide range of issues he doesn’t address. He says nothing about women or the environment or the world’s wage-workers or the limits of the rationalist culture he helps to articulate. His truths are half-truths too.

In the last lesson, you’ll learn what the truth is about world affairs. Is it possible to bring together all the half-truths so the whole truth is revealed?


Recommended book

“Man, the State, and War: A Theoretical Analysis” by Kenneth N. Waltz


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