Debating IR

Probing the philosophical underpinnings of the international system and anything else of interest.


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Jonathan Berman Responds to Adam, Still Thirsting for Liberal Constructivist Hegemony


I think we can both agree that we're smart people. However, even smart people can be wrong. And in this case especially, I believe that you misinterpreted liberal constructivism which is nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone's wrong on occasion and I don't think you'll suffer for it materially, socially, or grade-wise.

My interpretation of liberal constructivism is that its roots in post-structural thought make it a theory of morality more than a theory of how the international system works. It's asking what we "should do" rather than asking "what's going on here?"

From reading Lynch's article it is clear that a liberal constructivist should take the view that the international system as we know it today is immoral. It favors those with power at the expense of equality.

In this debate you had the power because you had the votes. As a result, that is why the whole debate was settled in such a quick manner.

True dialogue occurs when everyone is treated equally. That is the reason I tried to nail you on the consensus issue. Had you agreed, the whole process would have been held up. This merely shows though how impossible a true "communicative dialogue" truly is. If Lynch had his way the Nazis would have discussed their problems with the Jews and the Hutus would discuss their issues with the Tutsis. These scenarios help show why Lynch is wrong by taking these arguments to their natural conclusion. Why should the Jews or Tutsis have to discuss anything with people whose desires are immoral?

I'm of the position that that kind of dialogue simply cannot succeed. It is impossible and at times even immoral. As a result, that is why liberal constructivism does not work. You were put in a terrible Catch-22. Damned if you do and damned if you don't.

You needed to go along with a consensus because it was the only way to create a truly equal system where every individual is just as important as another. We offered to change the system to make it more equal and more moral. Our reasons were that we could use it to get our way, yours should have been to create true dialogue where people are forced to seek universal values and actually listen to their fellow participants. Only by agreeing to a consensus could this occur. Otherwise the majority rules and rules absolutely.

One last point, even though every member was allowed to act as an individual, we were all tasked with defending our point of view with the world, which was just as critical as getting your language passed. Think about it for a minute, would a liberal constructivist answer the question, "do the means justify the ends?" the same as a realist would? Not a chance.

The means you, and our fellow classmates, chose took advantage of the power granted by Robert's Rules to shut out my team from amending the proposal or even making more than 3 speeches. We didn't even have the chance to debate whether the US's contribution to world security already fulfills Bono's proposal.

In the end, you had the power to dictate the structure of the debate and you used it, as a realist would. The consensus we asked for would have changed the rules to make us all equal, something a liberal constructivist would appreciate regardless if it wouldn't lead where they wanted to go.

All we asked for was a dialogue on equal terms (one we would shamelessly exploite to our own ends). The invitation you offered us was a poison pill. As any experienced negotiator knows confederates is a highly effective strategy. Walking into a discussion that isn't regulated by rules with 5 people against 20 people is a recipe for disaster on the part of the 5.

In the end, as Zak said "by striking us down, you only served to make us stronger". In my eyes, realism won that day.


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