Foreign Affairs: 100 Years
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In 1770 Edmund Burke, that greatest of late eighteenth-century English conservatives and friend of America, published his famous tract entitled "Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents." Among its opening lines are some which, reread today, carry a contemporaneousness that is as inescapable as it is striking:
To complain of the age we live in, to murmur at the present possessors of power, to lament the past, to conceive extravagant hopes of the future, are the common dispositions of the greatest part of mankind. . . . There is hardly a man in or out of power, who holds any other language: That government is at once dreaded and contemned; that the laws are despoiled of all their respected and salutary terrours; that their inaction is a subject of ridicule, and their exertion of abhorrence; that rank, and office, and title, and all the solemn plausibilities of the world, have lost their reverence and effect; that our foreign politicks are as much deranged as our domestick economy; . . . that we know neither how to yield nor how to enforce; that hardly any thing above or below, abroad or at home, is sound and entire; but that disconnexion and confusion, in offices, in parties, in families, in the nation, prevail beyond the disorders of any former time: these are facts universally admitted.
Burke thereupon offered to the public of two hundred years ago his thoughts on the causes of the discontents which he saw all around him.
Without presuming to emulate Burke, or to offer anything as luminous in phraseology, as insightful in psychology, or as overreaching in concept, let me submit four thoughts in particular:
On Complexity as a Way of Life; On Policy as the Prisoner of Paradox; On the Use and Abuse of Ambiguity; and On Keeping Our National Interest Interesting. One way or another, each of them is relevant to our present discontents.
I. ON COMPLEXITY AS A WAY OF LIFE
We are all discontented now. Almost everyone is discontented with the way the war is going. Some are discontented with the way the war is ending. Many will be discontented with the eventual peace without victory. Still others will be discontented that the outcome will not end the argument.
At home as well as abroad, we are discontented with complexity. Each of us finds it hard to adjust to complexity as a way of life. We accept, without being reconciled to, the complexity of the life around us-our intellectual life, our bureaucratic life, our local community life, and the life of the world. Undeniable and apparently irresistible, the complexities are increasing in all the significant environments in which we move, often increasing well beyond optimum size.
And the consequences of complexity mount. Especially because the United States is as big as it is, and the United States Government is as big as it is, and the role of the United States in the world is as big as it is, the complexities swirl at the vortex of United States foreign policy.
Complexity can, of course, confound the policy-makers as well as the newspaper readers. Complicated situations like Viet Nam require tediously complicated explanations which lead to further complications themselves. The complexity surrounding the issue of Berlin tends, over time, to erode potential public support for Berlin when the crisis comes, thus adding new psychological dimensions to the policy-maker's problems in sustaining a national commitment. An ideology-distorting, alignment-splitting issue like Biafra offers vexatious human and political complexities all its own.
Complexity can thus be a problem in policy-making. Potentially it can distort it and defeat it. Sometimes the complexities can become so frustrating, and the consequences so infuriating, that the hapless policy- maker stamps his feet, like Queen Victoria in the Turkish crisis, and says, "I cannot stand it."
Bureaucratically, complexity has a loosening effect on the decision-making process inside government. Complexity helps assure that arguments will be close enough so that any sophisticated person can temporarily accommodate to a decision either way. Thus complexity also assures that a decision may only be a decision for a day. A decision carrying little intrinsic conviction evokes commensurably little loyalty. The sheer complexity surrounding such a decision invites reconsideration at the next meeting. Hence complexity can be inconvenient for policy.
But complexity can also be convenient for the policy-maker and appealing to him. He has compensatory uses for it: for complexity as a message; complexity as an obfuscator, neutralizer, immobilizer; complexity as an explanation; complexity as an excuse. "The situation is more complicated than you think," For the throng who worry lest they seem naïve, this can be a devastating message, especially when used by someone with superior access to information. This is the advantage which classified complexity regularly gives to the government over the citizen. Naïve is the one thing that every aspiring policy-maker is consecratedly determined not to be. There is no dirtier word. Naïveté, wherever it still subjectively lurks, covers itself with the sophisticated gloss of complexity.
Often the greater the knowledge, the less the wisdom, focus or point: the more complicated, the less coherent; the more complex, the less cohesive. Complexity lets us all down easily, sadly shaking our heads. Armed with complexity, one can half-disclose intellectual arguments that can throw intellectual critics off balance. Complexity pulls the teeth of argument. Psychologically, complexity can damp down one's doubts.
Either inside or outside of government, complexity can be a necessary precursor of change in either direction, constructive or destructive. A long-standing ally of incrementalism and gradualism, complexity can slow policy down. But the road to revisionism also lies along the route of complicating the issues. Complexity is a vehicle for making the conventional wisdom controversial. Any going concern that is to be successfully dismantled, whether it is the AID program or NATO, must first be made more complicated. From the base of complexity, once established, one can move on to the job of further destruction.
G. K. Chesterton used to say that in almost every gathering, someone demands that a practical man be heard, and unfortunately one is always available. Complexity becomes the playing field of pragmatism. The complication of issues can become a deliberate assignment. How simple are the situations that one sets out to complicate? The object of the complicator is to assure that ideas and policies never be allowed to succeed or fail on their own merits-to assure the constant presence of flanking attacks. Complexity and the arts of indirection are ready allies. Folded into the protective layers of policy, hidden among policy's seven veils, complexities lurk in the form of the strange bedfellows, the ironic allies, the unwilling tools, the awkward accomplices, the not-so-innocent partners in crime who flourish in the life and death of institutions. They help assure that if, perchance, the merits of the argument are about to be reached bureaucratically, complexity can leap into the breach.
It follows that complexity can do work for complicity by complicating what otherwise would be simple, unpalatable things. Complexity can serve as a converter: of minorities into majorities, of liberals into conservatives, of civilians into soldiers; of protest into compliance, of anguish into acquiescence, of battle cries into whimpers. Complexity can induce the public to give up, if only out of sheer satiation.
When political simplicities collapse, the successive complexities can submerge the Plimsoll line of political intake. At a given point in history much can depend on which side of the great debates the simplicities and complexities lie. Grave issues of war and peace may be simple or complex, and hence popular or peripheral. If the issues of war are simple, and the issues of peace complex, the politics will run toward the war. If the simplicities and complexities are reversed, the politics will run the other way. In either case the degrees of complexity and simplicity will affect the ways all of us think-and how toughly we think-about both war and peace. They will also affect the way we talk. For as Viet Nam so conclusively demonstrates, the complexity of a policy in crisis can lead to a crisis in explainability. And to paraphrase Burke from another context, a policy without the means of explanation is without the means of preservation.
II. ON POLICY AS THE PRISONER OF PARADOX
Frustrated by complexity as a way of life, the public seeks satisfactory explanation and finds paradox instead. In recent years official explanations have come to seem more and more paradoxical to their public beholders-reminiscent, almost, of that day a generation ago when our United Nations Representative earned renown by calling on the Arabs and Jews in the Middle East to settle their differences in a Christian way. At the end of the day for the Washington watcher, policy often appears as the prisoner of paradox-of inconsistencies, opposites and contradictions. Statements of policy come through, when they do, as public relations manifestations of a swinging society, oscillating among the paradoxes:
here dictators disturb us, and there they don't; here we espouse self- determination, and there we decry secession; here we recognize, and there we repudiate; here we are insurgent, and there we are counterinsurgent; here we denounce tariffs, and there we rely on them; here we are royalist, and there republican; here coups bother us, and there people accuse us of conducting them; here we spurn trade sanctions, and there we insist that others employ them; here our allies seem all sweetness and light, and there they look like simple s.o.b.s; here we befriend the exiles, and there we deal with the usurpers.
Nor are we oblivious of these impressions of paradox even inside the Department of State. Occasionally we think of setting up sets of those large Pentagon maps of the world, one each at opposite ends of the room, replete with their colored flags, pins and markers, to keep score of the paradoxes. This way, on a regular basis, we could chart the daily kaleidoscope of paradox, catching real-life glimpses of the ever changing world of principles in conflict.
Such an exercise would be nearly as disconcerting for most of the real-life people inside the government as it is for their critics outside-at least for all those who cling to notions of precedents and principles, but who lack the lawyer's appreciation that circumstances alter cases. Indeed the government insider is perhaps even more aware than the outsider of a set of more general paradoxes which permeate his work and make him pensive:
the paradox that most nations consider us to be the most powerful state on earth, but do not feel obliged to do our bidding-the audiovisual paradox that others see us but they do not hear; the paradox that our political influence has effectively lessened at the same time that the primacy of our power is being reconfirmed; the paradox that the revolution of rising expectations is now being accompanied by the counterrevolution of falling prospects engendered by the technological gap and the population explosion; the paradoxes of interdependence and the new nationalism-the independence of the dependent, the limits of U.N. peacekeeping, the recalcitrance of cultures; the paradox of the escalating volume of communications and their declining meaning and significance; the paradox that where governments are for us, their people may be against us; and that where governments are against us, the people may still be on our side.
Such paradoxes assure that in the real world of policy, we will continue to live out the further paradox of conducting conflicting policies at once. And paradoxical policies will gravitate to paradoxical rationales and recruit them for service. Frequently even while consistent initiatives in one area are undertaken, they will be accompanied by paradoxical desires to take out insurance against failure.
The more self-conscious a policy-maker is about his leadership role, the more concerned he will be about the public implications of these paradoxes. In an age of instant communication and quantum jumps in public intellectuality, the pressures born of paradox increasingly impact on policy. They render acute a policy-maker's psychological predicament of consistency in semantics, outlook and stance. His problem of performing articulately before alert and inconsistently interested audiences vexes him. And he, after all, is but one of the many policy-makers whose corporate behavior makes up a government's reputation. It is hard for even the most upright of policy-makers to operate on this hazardous terrain without inviting accusations of hypocrisy. Public surveillance is constant to detect discrepancies between the way people in government talk from one occasion to another, not to mention the discrepancies between the way government talks and the way it acts. Government and citizen alike react to paradox and create more of it.
As he contemplates all of this, the policy-maker asks himself: Can a twentieth-century foreign policy be successfully conducted despite the hangup of the paradoxes? Will the American people support it more if they know more about it? Or will increased public interest mean reduced public support, as educated impatience clashes with paradox? How can our future foreign policy requirements be kept from outrunning the American people's disposition for complexity, toleration for paradox and scope for acquiescence? And what are the likely consequences of this train of thought for élitist mentalities inside the government and for democratic demands outside?
Whatever the answers, we confront the primacy of paradox. This is a somber time in the pernicious polarizing of logic and life. At such a time, not surprisingly, the policy environment becomes an acculturating experience that trains people to be more comfortable with conflict situations than is normally the case. For a hard look at the paradoxes of life can also lead to rather abnormally high appreciations of ambiguity, both as actuality and as art.
III. ON THE USE AND ABUSE OF AMBIGUITY
This is the Age of Complexity and therefore the Age of Paradox and therefore the Age of Ambiguity. But heightened levels of education, communication and democracy make it also the Age of Clarity. The Age of Ambiguity tries against odds to compete and survive in the Age of Clarity.
Clarity on occasion can rescue ambiguity, sometimes dramatically. In August 1914, Italy defected from the Triple Alliance and declared her neutrality as her German and Austrian allies went to war. In praising the Italian decision, Viviani, the French Foreign Minister, attributed it to "the clarity of insight possessed by the Latin intellect."
Ambiguity can likewise rescue men and institutions, usually with less drama but nevertheless rescue them, from clear and present dangers. Thomas Reed Powell of the Harvard Law School, observing the changing voting behavior of the Supreme Court in the days when the court-packing threat still hung over them, concluded that "a switch in time saved nine."
Ambiguity can be constructive and destructive, creative and confusing, unconscious and contrived, public and private, essential and non-essential. Both governmentally and personally, the need for inner clarity deepens as the environmental ambiguities grow. Ambiguity can be a policy requirement or a personal convenience. It can be a diplomatic necessity, a lubricant of government and a domestic political tool. Clarification can destroy ambiguity and create trouble all around. Yet, paradoxically, the drive for clarity is inescapable in an educated democracy. It is essential if we are to have either responsible citizenship or responsible government. It is required if the government is to think clearly itself.
One of the causes of our present discontents is that we are all caught up on these intersecting wave lengths of clarity and ambiguity. It is hard to say which plight is more poignant, the plight of clarity seeking irrational support, or the plight of ambiguity seeking clear-headed acquiescence.
Ambiguity may properly become a fundamental objective of high policy. Some of our most inventive and persistent diplomatic talent spends much of its time on highly ambiguous operations. Thus, even in the case of North Korea, a deliberately fraudulent apology, repudiated in advance, finally proved efficacious, when all else had failed, in releasing the Pueblo prisoners. In Paris a carefully ambiguous formula for the Viet Nam talks was deliberately framed to permit inconsistent interpretations to be made of it by any participant who wished. It is still assailed by the champions of clarity. An even more ambiguous formula avoided a table with two sides or four sides, and enabled talks to occur among participants all of whom believe there are three sides but disagree on which sides are which.
When it comes to artificial table shapes in Paris and disavowable apologies in Panmunjom, ambiguity can be a necessary instrument of progress. It can add up to a constructive non-meeting of minds. The object is not to find an honest way to have unalterable minds meet. The object is to bypass the hopelessness of achieving real agreement by finding words to solve a problem tactically-to discover mutually acceptable ambiguities which everybody can satisfactorily interpret to his own ends. Sometimes the words in fact do work.
The purposeful, creative use of ambiguity for foreign policy purposes can tie up countless man-hours of high-salaried people in Washington. After the ambiguity is discovered by an alert foreign government, or an enterprising American newsman, the government expects to be vilified for its naïveté, excoriated for its mindlessness and ridiculed for its amateur approach to matters about which informed outsiders think seriously. Sometimes such criticism is deserved. Often it is an ungenerous lack of appreciation. For ambiguous statements of high policy often take a lot of work. There are experts in the arts of ambiguity, specialists in this business of blandness, devotees of the worthwhileness of word flavoring. A Secretary- General of the United Nations himself, Dag Hammarskjold, was called a "Machiavelli of peace" because he liked ambiguous resolutions that gave him leeway in carrying them out. Foreign-policy-makers really do have a stake in ambiguity which clear-minded citizens lack.
In situations of maximum complexity and paradox-especially situations of mounting crisis accompanied by deliberately graduated escalatory pressures, like Viet Nam-policy-makers in private come close to crying out: Mirror, Mirror On the Wall: Who can be most ambiguous of all? Many of those who Meet the Press, or meet the Congress, excel in their dedication to ambiguity and are proud of their reputation.
These practitioners of ambiguity need not be cryptic about it, nor necessarily cynical. Indeed a great many of them feel an extra degree of dedication to ambiguity these days in what may be a final historic effort to preserve the indispensably ambiguous foundations of that twenty-five year old, liberal-conservative foreign policy coalition of ours, which is showing every sign of breaking up over Viet Nam, over our national accumulation of cold-war battle fatigue, and over our necessarily increased attention to the home fires that are burning up our domestic society. Sometimes the results may remind an onlooker of Mort Sahl's remark about Marshall McLuhan: "He's not meant to be understood, he's meant to be respected." But that is what the positive case for ambiguity is all about.
The case for ambiguous policies can be greatly overstated, however, just as the qualities of ambiguous men can be greatly overrated. The art of ambiguity can be used and abused. An official policy of keeping foreigners guessing can mean, in practice, that we are keeping ourselves guessing as well. Instincts for ambiguity, let loose abroad, can come home to roost.
Ambiguous talking can lead to ambiguous thinking. Ambiguous practices can produce ambiguous people. Habits of compromising language are hard to shake. The disease of persuasive non-communication is catching. A talent for ambiguity, admirable in smoothing over certain situations, can spill over into other situations where what is needed is clarity, above all.
Consciously or unconsciously, everyone involved in the total policy process, from the citizen in the street to the clerk in the bureaucracy, moves between the poles of ambiguity and clarity. All experience the sharpened frustrations of our present discontents, and all live and work aware of the instability of our current national mood. Some in this process, especially the lawyers, consciously speculate over what degrees of ambiguity and clarity are mutually bearable. I say especially the lawyers, because they are sensitive to the use of words; they are experts in precision and imprecision. Wherever they are in the process, whether they are working for ambiguity or for clarity, their ambiguities are more often than not deliberate.
Some foreign-policy-makers fervently believe in private just what they say in public. Others sharply separate their role as spokesmen from their role at their desks, where they desire the most disinterested analysis, in the clearest terms, of the real problems they confront. Congressmen loyally oppose the Executive Branch by turning the fishy eye of clarity toward it as they seek to influence policy, score points or make a record. In their approach to the voters, however, they often manipulate the forces of ambiguity as they strive to broaden their reputations and, along with them, their electoral majorities. Staff men inside government can spend their time either way-either by inventing new ways to hide differences through language, or by using language creatively to expose important differences.
Congress, press and public alike reflect the educated impatience of an increasingly knowledgeable America as it brings new intellectual pressures to bear on the operational men of government. Pulled in many directions at once, these men struggle for room for man?uvre. Thus they may strive for new records in ambiguity just at the time when various knowledgeable publics outside, and various knowledgeable experts inside, separately clamor for clarity. The operational men of government know that penalties will be paid, and consequences suffered, for deciding as well as for not deciding at all.
Outside and inside government the explosion of knowledge acts as a fragmentation bomb. For the consequent impulses for clarity have nothing necessarily to do with a wider sharing of viewpoint or a broader agreement on concept. Nor do they have anything necessarily to do with coherence of impact upon or within government. Instead they tend to multiply the vantage points of criticism, sharpen the demands for clarification, and deepen the frustration of articulate advocates when they realize they are not being followed. Thus the clarity of vision required by new multitudes of advocates and analysts proliferates the criticisms without proportionately increasing the satisfactions. The result is a gross increase in the number of individual opportunities for finding and taking offense. One critic's solution is another critic's problem, but both can enlist full time in the campaign for clarity. Yet clarity is subjective. In the last analysis, its logic is the logic of one.
On its part, ambiguity can be a jealous mistress. Once the practice is indulged in, it becomes progressively more difficult to tell where to stop. In unintended ways, ambiguity may even become dangerous to the practitioner. He may thereby put power in the hands of those willing to interpret his ambiguities unambiguously. An official who follows his own inclinations for ambiguity may thus devolve power without really trying. The federal bureaucracy is full of people who happily pursue conflicting implementations of ambiguous decisions reached at superior levels. By definition, ambiguities never begin and end with fixed dimensions. Like all loopholes, they tend to enlarge as the numbers that pass through them wear them away. Hence in the creation and implementation of policy, ambiguity can be both the blessing and the bane of bureaucratic existence.
Thus we walk the razor's edge between the ambiguity that we have finally accepted as inevitable, and the ambiguity that we have gradually learned to like. On the one side are the ambiguities dictated by the unavoidable, inescapable givens. If we fail to recognize them, we are in a significant way maladjusted. On the other side are the ambiguities that beckon with their own excessive fascinations, the ambiguities that invite by their own enamoring embrace.
Today informed political action publicly endangers the life of the Necessary Ambiguities. But simultaneously the Unnecessary Ambiguities privately threaten the decision-making processes of government. Altogether, inside and outside government, these forces could add up to a dangerous discontent with democracy. They intensify the dilemma of the executive- politician: how to engage in sufficient ambiguity to get elected and to govern, while operating, outside as well as inside, in environments which steadily register both insistent demands and undeniable needs for clarity.
Outside, the ambiguities which are increasingly necessary for election to office are increasingly intolerable in the politics of confrontation favored by a growing proportion of educated, affluent, emancipated, post- adolescent American youth. Inside, the ambiguities necessary to administer a huge bureaucracy increasingly work against the indispensable clarities needed for intelligent decision-making. Outside, the negativizing divisiveness of clarity confronts the fraudulently unifying process of ambiguity. Both inside and out, the protective ambiguities permit and prolong wishful thinking. Their removal can expose the underlying complexities and lay bare the paradoxes that imprison policy. Ambiguity is the tribute which complexity pays to paradox.
Complexity, paradox and ambiguity: so much a part of our present discontents, and potentially the cause, and effect, of so many more. For complexity is not very inspirational. Paradox is not particularly uplifting. Ambiguity does not fire a people. All of them seem to work against that persistent pursuit of priorities which is required by today's conventional wisdom. Complexity, paradox and ambiguity-the noblest sentiment to which they add up is that tantalizing, obscure, quicksilver one called "the national interest." Inevitable and inescapable, they can go on to envelop and overwhelm us if they are indiscriminately admired. If we become overfond of turning these necessities into virtues, they can not only rob us of personal integrity but drain our national interest of communicable content.
In effect they conspire to thwart precisely those people who are capable of seeing, symbolizing and expounding the national interest. They frustrate and retire those who are capable of making our national interest interesting. They show up just at the wrong point in history, when we might otherwise face with enthusiasm the rediscovery of creative naïveté, the rebirth of the integrated personality, the reassertion of the lost art of standing for something, the reaffirmation of doing your thing.
Integrated personalities with conceptual views can always be gunned down by complexity, paradox and ambiguity. It is easy for the latter to drive the former out of government into opposition, and out of public into private life. There they can simmer, steam and boil over along with the other-what shall we say, one million?-contemporary Americans who see themselves as qualified critics, deeply concerned and insatiably interested in the formulation, conduct and purpose of American foreign policy. So gross an imbalance between the massive concern and the minimal involvement is itself pregnant with implications for the fate of our national interest.
IV. ON KEEPING OUR NATIONAL INTEREST INTERESTING
"I was under the necessity of forming some fixed ideas," Burke later wrote in his speech on "Conciliation with America," ". . . . in order, amidst so vast a fluctuation of passions and opinions, to concenter my thoughts; to ballast my conduct; to preserve me from being blown about by every wind of fashionable doctrine. I really did not think it safe, or manly, to have fresh principles to seek upon every fresh mail which should arrive from America."
And Burke knew whereof he spoke, because in the 1770s, fresh mail from America brought fresh principles with it.
"Let facts be submitted to a candid world," said Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues in 1776 when they drafted the Declaration of Independence. Complexity, paradox and ambiguity were not what Mr. Jefferson had in mind. Nor did he rest contentedly on the phrase, "the national interest." Indeed it was the national interest itself which he sought to define, as uncomplicatedly, unparadoxically and unambiguously as he could.
The latest bibliography of the books supplied by the United States Information Agency to stock American libraries around the world still begins with Jefferson's reference to the candid world. Leading the 250- volume introductory collection of these books we send abroad are the notable ones from America's literature of liberty-American classics of democratic thought, American exhortations to revolution, American proclamations of inalienable rights and the equality of man-basic doctrines which from the beginning have made our national interest uniquely interesting to others.
And, at least historically speaking, this is as it should be. For two hundred years, others have contemplated our national interest and identified themselves with what they saw-with Project Hope, writ large. We Americans have understood from the beginning that power, like patriotism, is not enough. At each high point in our history, the custodians of our national interest have made it interesting to us and to others.
This achievement is all the more impressive when contrasted with what national interest usually means. Traditionally the concept has hidden things otherwise unacceptable, things which do not readily lend themselves to a more inspiring description. The term national interest is at least suggestive of a conflict with broader human interests. It often signals a foreign adventure conducted in the face of domestic discontent. It can carry an implied reflection on the quality of the cause. It can embrace all those non-democratic, undemocratic and anti-democratic associations which democracies find embarrassing. Especially considering all that has gone before, we Americans beat a major retreat from a far wider and more appealing tradition whenever we reduce our appeal to the language of national interest. Its use is apologetic, a confession of incipient inadequacy in American foreign-policy terms.
No one's national interest is self-defining. It is a kind of UFO-an unidentified flying object. It is a label for uninspiring policies pursued by uninspired men. By definition, national interest, whatever it is, lacks primary interest to others. Indeed, the more any power states its policy in terms of its national interest, the more assuredly it loses the interest of others. For America this is particularly self-defeating, because we thereby thoughtlessly discard our unique historic reputation for disinterestedness. Hitherto that has been one of our most important national assets, even on the strictest Bismarckian scales of Hoch-und-Real-politik.
Most nations have never made their wars interesting to others. America traditionally has. The world's favorite impression of the American national character has never been that of a normal or abnormal great power. It has been of America the disinterested, the selfless. It has been our inexplicably genuine departures from self-interest, while everyone else behaved in a predictably self-interested manner, that always made us something special.
Lincoln could have reduced his cause to the language of national interest at Gettysburg, but he didn't. Wilson could have limited himself to the language of national interest and submarine warfare in 1917, but he didn't. Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor could have restricted himself to the national interest language of repelling aggression, but he didn't. Lincoln, Wilson and Roosevelt at moments of supreme national crisis made our national interest interesting to others by identifying us with ideas that move mankind. And they were not just applying cosmetics to power. They were credible, because they thought the way they talked. Language was close to life, propaganda to performance, public relations to personal commitment.
Complexity, paradox and ambiguity, by contrast, prevent both rhetoric and policy from rising above national interest to the larger issues involved. If our causes themselves are so poor that they will not support a better justification, then we had better have another look at our causes. At any rate, when we talk national interest, we lose friends for America. When we talk common purposes, we gain them. It is no service to render us indistinguishable from other big powers among which our preeminent value is simply that we are the biggest of all. In that sense, it is not in our national interest to stress our national interest.
As all of us move toward the twenty-first century, the grip of the many patriotisms around the world will everywhere become less and less. The full qualitative dimensions of all national causes, in all their cross-sections and costs, will be freely aired and universally evaluated. The dual explosions of education and communication assure nothing less. In America, we are face to face with the predicament of how an open society makes up its mind-of how, as a society, we move up from the quantity issues to the quality issues, from simple open-mindedness and simple power politics to the constructive closing of our national mind. Tendencies toward complexity, paradox and ambiguity can quickly and easily reinforce temptations toward inequality, injustice and inhumanity. These temptations are fraught with implications for our choices of means and ends in domestic and foreign policy alike.
Paradoxically, there are matters, however complex, about which no genuinely open society can afford to have an open mind. Paradoxically, there are issues and values on which a great democracy cannot really be intrinsically ambiguous without ceasing to be a great democracy. The penalties for failing to grapple with these issues are predictable. The complexity- minded, the paradox-minded and the ambiguity-minded can easily slip into- and inculcate-habits of mind avoiding engagement and severing the nerve of action, rather than informing judgment and instructing decision.
We could, instead, return to our beginnings and live again in bold and active proof that we have indeed made up our minds-that this open society is closed to the claims of inequality at home and abroad. If we did this more convincingly and credibly-convincingly because it was honest, credibly because it was real-our national interest could once again become interesting to others in the special way it has often been before. If we did this unreservedly, a host of unnecessary complexities, superfluous paradoxes and distorting ambiguities would peel away.
Complexity, paradox and ambiguity-here are some causes of our present discontents. Generally recognized as part of the reality, increasingly practiced as part of the solution, they are now becoming part of the problem.