STREAMING LIVE: Charles Kupchan and Adam Mount on “The Autonomy Rule”


Thumbnail image for clemons.kupchan.jpg
You may have seen that Carlos Lozada of the Washington Post highlighted “The Autonomy Rule” as a new conceptualization of American foreign policy framing in his “Big Ideas” column on Sunday.
While the authors, Charles Kupchan and Adam Mount, don’t like the way I characterize their important piece which just appeared in the journal Democracy, I think they strike a hard blow both against Robert Kagan‘s “Absolutists vs. Liberals” thesis and against G. John Ikenberry and Daniel Deudney’s view that China and other ascending powers will live long and happily in the global liberal order constructed by the United States.
Kupchan, I think, has conceptualized a new brand of Global 21st Century Nixonianism — and this may very well be the direction the country needs to go.
The Washington TimesEli Lake and Truman National Security Project Director Rachel Kleinfeld will respond to Kupchan’s and Mount’s thesis.
The event will take place TODAY at the New America Foundation‘s NEW OFFICES at 1899 L Street, 4th Floor today between 12:00 noon and 1:45 pm – and will LIVE STREAM here at The Washington Note.
— Steve Clemons


8 comments on “STREAMING LIVE: Charles Kupchan and Adam Mount on “The Autonomy Rule”

  1. Phil says:

    Will this be permanently archived somewhere for those of us who missed it to watch (like previous LiveStreams have)?


  2. Taylor Marsh says:

    Hey Steve, just wanted to thank you for an incredibly dense and important forum yesterday.
    At the moment where Ms. Kleinfeld talked about wanting to ask women in to share a meal beside her, or at the very least to question why they were not included, I had to contain myself from breaking out in applause. (Something I’ll write about over the weekend.)
    Oh, and by the way, nice offices.


  3. questions says:

    Thinking random thoughts this morning, Dan K., I’d say that Hobbes’s discussion of the push to stay alive by signing a contract and establishing a state is, if not morally binding in a universal-law sense, still pretty universally binding. (Remember, Hobbes uses the law of inertia to ground the work in _The Leviathan_ — pretty universal stuff.) I don’t think that Hobbes would be miles and miles from Kant on this point. And remember there’s a really clear logical/reasoned progression from the shortness of life in the state of nature through the realization that we must take action to the contract that preserves life. Hobbes has a notion of natural right — the preservation of life — that may well be analogous to the categorical imperative.
    I’m not at all an ethicist, so many of the finer points will go right past me, but I kind of think, off the top of my head, that if you have any systematic notion of ethics, you probably end up stuck with some kind of imperative system based on a notion that self-interest and care of others must dovetail. Kant heavily pushes the duty-to-others side of the equation, but the duty-to-others is based on a notion of universal rationality, so “other” is pretty much “self” at some level. And Rawls’s rewriting of Kant reminds us that duty to others is profoundly selfish. You never know when you’re going to be “other,” hence the original position thinking. Rawls’s selfish/other dynamic is best seen in health care issues I think. We ought to take care of all cancer patients because we are all equally vulnerable to getting cancer and none of us wishes to die from it. As soon as that identification is made, it becomes clear that generous cancer-care benefits are the most selfish thing we could enact, and yet the most generous as well. Duty to other is duty to self, and vice-versa.
    It would seem to me that the strongest international system would emphasize this self/other identification. We take in immigrants because one day we might be immigrants, we help because one day we might need help. There’s the very practical side of the imperative that says act from duty only. “From duty” collides frequently with “from inclination” but never with “from possiblity”. The US could become a third-rate national disaster zone and could one day export people rather than import them. The trick would seem to be to get ALL of us to see our very real vulnerability. Many people, sadly, don’t see how fast they can fall, and how desperately they will need a safety net under them. I can’t remember right now if it’s Mozi who made this point, but the basic idea is, if you want your own parents well-cared for in the world, make sure that all parents are well-cared for in the world. Then your parents’ well-being doesn’t depend on your power to care for them.
    The hitch here, of course, is that the identification process is very very slow, tenuous, and gains are not easily held even when made. There has been deep identification, say, with Israel, and deep outrage at Israel’s conduct (rightful outrage) such that there are louder calls for disengagement. There are peoples around the world we don’t well identify with. We prefer people who have something to give us (trade — inclination), there are people who are easy to identify with (they’re like us or attractive — inclination), and then there are those we dislike completely. And, for Kant, this latter case is the best test case.
    So if the shift in rhetoric from “we can only love democracies” to “we can love decent peoples” would widen the circle of identifications, it might be a sensible move. (I just pulled _Law of Peoples_ off the shelf for the first time in a while. Rawls seems to have some useful language for some of these issues, though the immigration stuff is a bit off-key.)
    And by the way, Kant really does see your criticisms of his work. There’s a clear sense that “the dear self always arises”, that we do not act from duty, though we often act in accordance with duty, that we aren’t going to obey a pretty clear set of good rules. We, each of us, have a duty to act rightly, but a little duty never stopped anyone from listening to inclination. The point of Kantian thinking, as with any theoretical work, is to provide at least a framework for analysis and a direction of sorts. And further, as I noted above, even utilitarian arguments, and “justice is the will of the stronger” arguments have a universal component. Rawls does a fabulous job (and Plato too) of showing that selfishness just doesn’t serve us as well as we would think. So when we choose the most selfish motives and we serve inclination, we undermine our own position.
    And still, I need to read the paper….


  4. Dan Kervick says:

    I just downloaded the paper, and look forward to reading it.
    But as someone with a skeptical cast of mind, in broad sympathy with the utilitarian and other English traditions of Hobbes, Hume, Smith, Bentham, Mill and Russell, and no fan of either Kant, Korsgaard or Rawls, it’s not looking promising.
    Personally, I don’t believe in moral rules, binding unconditionally on human beings, that exist either in a pre-existing moral order that is grasped by the intellect, or that follow somehow from the structure of the exercise of pure or practical reason. Rules, in my view, are the simply social engineering work of human beings acting in pursuit of their desires. I don’t believe there are any categorical imperatives. Imperatives never have a categorical force, and are always issued by creatures with a will in pursuit of an end. The only force they possess is the force that creature is able to bring to bear to induce others to obey them.
    Systems of rules are generally created by human beings either to advance their interests in cooperative fashion, or to coerce others into serving their interests, or both. With regard to the cooperative function, we work with others to devise rules, and the institutional structures that will exercise the positive and negative sanctions needed to give the rules force, because we recognize common interests, and anticipate being better off under such a system than we would be in a system in which we preserved more freedom from the coercive sanctions of others.
    We don’t have to respect the autonomy or whatnot of people in other countries in order to work with them to fashion an efficacious system of international rules. We just have to share a perception with them that we will be better off with efficacious rules in place.


  5. questions says:

    Thanks for the response — I will try to get to the article in the next couple of days. I’m sure I’ll have more to say after I’ve actually read your work! Thanks again for the time and effort and food for thought!


  6. Steve Clemons says:

    questions — sorry about the A/V issues. We have recently moved into new space and have had some hiccups we are trying to work out. thanks for your patience and support. it was a great program, steve


  7. a.j. mount says:

    Thanks for the very thoughtful comments. I wasn’t planning on
    responding here, but then again I wasn’t expecting to be
    pressed on the philosophical underpinnings of the article. I’m a
    sucker for philosophy and IR.
    I take your point that autonomy for Kant isn’t so easy as I made
    it sound. (But I didn’t want to put a room full of people totally to
    sleep.) But think about neo-Kantians like Christine Korsgaard
    who think that from a) basic principles of practical reasoning,
    and b) the categorical imperative we can ground a fairly robust
    positive moral system. This runs along the lines of: acting
    autonomously and valuing my own capacity to reason requires
    that I value the same capacity in other humans. Think about
    states doing the same thing, and you’ll see how something like
    this can been used to ground both a militant democracy
    promotion and a liberal internationalism; the argument in the
    article suggests that placing an autonomy rule front and center
    can do this better than either of the other alternatives. (You’re
    right, though, that we’d have to jettison most of how Perpetual
    Peace has been used.) In Kantian terms, you could say that
    respect for the autonomy rule is a maxim fully consistent with
    the CI.
    You suggest Rawls, so you might also say that the parties would
    agree to it in the original position—but notice that Rawls has the
    same sort of ambiguity: Thomas Pogge wants a global original
    position consisting of individuals while Rawls wants an OP
    attended by peoples. The two come to very different
    Anyway, tough stuff. Thanks for watching!


  8. questions says:

    The streaming system was a bit weird so I missed parts and pieces….
    I think it was Adam Mount who invoked Kant and a Kantian notion of autonomy as self-governance, and both seem to indicate a willingness to back off of democracy-promotion. So, starting with the Kant, “autonomy” for Kant is contrasted in _The Groundwork_ with “heteronomy” and is more concerned with self-governance in the sense of using reason rather than inclination to guide action. One person, telling him/herself what to do, but listening to his/her inclination, is acting heteronomously, not autonomously. So maybe Kant isn’t the right touchstone. Further, in “Perpetual Peace,” Kant argues that the titular peace is available only in a world without democracies and without autocracies. “Democracy” is a bad word for large numbers of political theorists. For Kant, the preferred system of governance is a republican form with representation, a deep separation between those who legislate and those who execute the law, and a deep connection between those who declare war and those who suffer from war. The democracy/republican distinction is not trivial for Kant.
    Kant argues that either we as a people live by a set of rules that include: no standing armies, no borrowing for war, republican governments, a league of nations but no nation of nations among others, or we will have endless war. He knows well and good that we’ll never go for it, but notes that nature is going to arrange it for us anyway by scattering us and requiring that we trade with each other. So for Kant, the real issue ends up being scattered peoples who trade with each other, who obey the categorical imperative, whose maxims are all subject to the rule of publicity.
    If you want some new international system, try starting with publicity rules. Act only according to maxims whose publicity you can will universally. If there’s someone out there who can’t know what you’re about to do, then you can’t do what you’re about to do.
    Second, non-Kantian quibbles, I think that the whole issue of resource control seems to be missing. We don’t promote democracy where resource issues get in the way; we don’t promote democracy where the instability would be costly or would lead to left wing governments; we don’t promote democracy, in short, unless it’s convenient. I think that the Bush/neocon ideal was a smokescreen for other issues. We support large numbers of regimes that are deeply inimical to their own peoples if that support is good for our people.
    The distributive issues the authors bring up are very interesting and maybe the place for them to look is in Rawls. Rawls takes both liberty and welfare seriously, but puts liberty far ahead. We don’t give up liberty for welfare — that is, we don’t, say, sell ourselves into slavery. Rawls promotes Kantian themes, seems to be more in line with what the authors suggest, and is loathed by the WSJ crowd. It sounds pretty good! If this came up already in the talk and I missed it, apologies. I’ll try to find time to read the article soon.
    Thanks for an enjoyable, if frequently interrupted, experience!


Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *