2004 November 19 Friday
Jerry Pournelle: Jacobinism Root Cause Of Iraq Debacle

Jerry Pournelle sees the embrace by American intellectuals of Jacobin assumptions about human nature as providing the flawed rationale for the Iraq Debacle. (go read the whole thing!)

The more I think about the Iraqi campaign, the more I am convinced that the chief cause of this debacle -- I fear that is none too strong a word -- is the pervasiveness of Jacobinism among the intellectual leadership of this country. The notion that "all men are created equal" is a noble concept, and useful when establishing a government by the middle class which has only begun to wrest political control from an aristocracy that controls most of the wealth. It is useful as a legal principle in a nation governed by the rule of law. Objectively, though, it is nonsense. All men -- and women -- are not created equal. Some are smarter than others. Some are so stunted as to be counted human only through religious assumptions and legal definitions. If we expand our horizons beyond our own borders, the notion becomes even more absurd. Be it heredity or be it culture or be it a combination of both, nothing is more clearly false than the assumption of the equality of cultures, societies, and the people who live in them. To say otherwise would be to say that a culture of death and destruction which seeks to enslave as sub-human all those outside that culture; which says that there can be no peace with outsiders, only conquest; is the equal of the liberal democracies that believe in the notion of equality. Carried to extremes, the assumption of general equality states that the only thing the Nazis did wrong was to lose. Of course logic is never the strong suit of the Jacobins.

Jerry gets to the heart of the flawed Jacobin assumption about human nature:

All are equal, and thus all will be reasonable, and thus if given the opportunity all will choose to be like the Jacobins; and make no mistake, this is taught in almost every political science and anthropology class in the nation, and if the enlisted troops have not been forced to act as if they believe it, the officer corps, all of whom have college degrees, most certainly have been required to act that way to get those degrees. Think upon the fate of anyone in our colleges who asserts that some people are born smarter than others, and nothing the society can do will change that; and who asks for the evidence that his view is false. We do not have anything like freedom of thought or rational debate of ideas on our college campuses, and in our credentialed society one cannot become an officer without pretending to believe the current views despite the simple fact that those views are self-evidently nonsense.

It probably comes as no surprise to my long term readers that I think Jerry's analysis is correct. In a way this is the problem of an anti-empirical solipsism among intellectuals who think if they just can stifle all dissent from the modern liberal view of human nature that they can make their view be reflected in the way that all humans behave. The belief in the liberal ideal of man as Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "noble savage" is intellectually not at all far from the belief that the vast majority of Iraqis strongly desire a free and democratic society. Never mind that the Iraqis continue to demonstrate an unwillingness to fight for such a society. Liberalism and its offshoot neoconservatism keep the secular faith with a view of human nature that is inconsistent with a scientific view of what we now know about homo sapiens. What is now wrong with a large range of social policies ranging from education, immigration, racial preferences, and the neoconservative foreign policy agenda is a result of a willful denial of what is now known about human nature.

If you are unfamiliar or insufficiently familiar with the term "Jacobin" as it originated in the French Revolution then the Wikipedia Jacobin entry is a useful starting point. Also the Wikipedia Enlightenment entry has some relevant description:

The Enlightenment idea of rationality as government found its way to the heart of the American Declaration of Independence, and the Jacobin program of the French Revolution, as well as the American Constitution of 1787.

The French Revolution, in particular, represents the Enlightenment philosophy through a violent and messianic lens, particularly during the brief period of Jacobin dictatorship. The desire for rationality in government lead to the attempt to end the Catholic Church, and indeed Christianity, in France, change the calendar, clock, measuring system, monetary system and legal system along lines suggested by what was seen as an orderly rationality. It also took the ideas of social and economic equality further than any other state.

The Iraq Debacle may still serve a useful purpose of helping to undermine Jacobinism in the West. Though expect the growth of a large liberal and even neoconservative critique of Bush's Iraq intervention as something that could have been a smashing success if it had only been executed better. You know, communism failed because it was never tried in its pure form. That sort of nonsense.

Update: Prince Charles holds a very un-French view of human nature:

Charles’s note was read yesterday at a tribunal hearing into former Clarence House personal assistant Elaine Day’s compliant of sexual harassment against a senior member of staff.

In the letter, the Prince complained: “What is wrong with people now? Why do they all seem to think they are qualified to do things far beyond their technical capabilities?

“This is to do with the learning culture in schools as a consequence of a child-centred system which admits no failure.

“People seem to think they can all be pop stars, high court judges, brilliant TV personalities or infinitely more competent heads of state without ever putting in the necessary work or having natural ability.

“This is the result of social utopianism which believes humanity can be genetically and socially engineered to contradict the lessons of history.”

The English and Scottish Enlightenments were more practical and empirical. English Burkean Conservatism stands in opposition to Jacobinism.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 November 19 05:04 PM  Cultural Wars Western


Comments
Trisha May said at November 19, 2004 5:45 PM:

Nail on the head. So annoyed with people who think, as Prince Charles put it, "humanity can be genetically and socially engineered to contradict the lessons of history." (I can't believe I just quoted him.) Not all men or women are created equal. Until we let go of the ridiculous notion that they are, we as a society will never be free or more.

John S Bolton said at November 20, 2004 1:37 AM:

Let's not fail to notice that the officials and their professoriate, for more than forty years now, have ditched any claims to reason, in any dignified sense of the term. They have blindly followed fascism; into the idolatry of unreason, the man of feeling, and terror and sacrifice as values to be sought. All of this is done with government money, in vicious parasitization of the net taxpayer, and it signals the doom of the government schools and the leftist egalitarian project in toto. We will see them cast down; who, with public funds try to set up such as the Khmer Rouge as instances of moral idealism. The scholarship of generations, the strivings of power-seeking officials, the effrontery of populations with subhuman breeding practices, yet who ask to be regarded as equals of the others; all of these will be driven down.

Invisible Scientist said at November 20, 2004 2:26 AM:

So far, genetic engineering has not been used with full strength. So far, eugenics was
the only form of genetic engineering that has been used in the past. Selective breeding almost
certainly has a direct impact on social engineering (good and bad.) Children of aggressive people,
are often agressive, children of gentle people are often gentle, not to mention the correlation between intelligence,
and it seems that this is not just because the children are learning the manners of their family, it is because of
their nature instead of nurture.

NOW I am going to make a rather wild speculation that will probably provoke a lot of complaints from the
autdience, I will be ridiculed: I speculate that that the feudal system of Iraq was genetically
enforced for many generations, where the ruling class had the aggressive dominant genes,
and the other classes had more docile genes overall.

In this sense, social engineering can be done by using genetics, in the sense that just like someone wrote
above, not all people are created equal.

noone said at November 20, 2004 5:31 AM:

"feudal system of Iraq was genetically
enforced for many generations, where the ruling class had the aggressive dominant genes,
and the other classes had more docile genes overall."

Actually,if Darwin's natural selection is right,then it's logical to presume that the most successful(aggressive) males monopolized resources(including females).Steve Sailor's "color continium" in Mexico,where the most ambitious and brightest non-euro's are co-opted,would seem to bear this out.It would explain why fuedal societies last so long,not enough smart people down there to lead a revolution from below.

Of course,leftists rarely apply Darwin to science,reserving him to attack religion.

Luke Lea said at November 20, 2004 7:25 AM:

At this point, I am just concerned that we not sell democracy in America down the river. And I don't think we can prevent that if 90 percent plus of the population are pulled down out of the middle-class in a laisez faire world of free trade and unrestriced immegration. For this reason I support Thomas Frank's thesis: the answer is to combine economic populism with traditional morality. Hopefully their will be a grass-roots movement along these lines from within the Democratic Party. Everybody should read, "What's the Matter with Kansas" together with "Perfectly Legal" by Johnson. Even you upper-middle class libertarians are getting royally screwed whether you know it or not.

Invisible Scientist said at November 20, 2004 7:40 AM:


"Steve Sailor's "color continium" in Mexico,where the most ambitious and brightest non-euro's are co-opted,would seem to bear this out.It would explain why fuedal societies last so long,not enough smart people down there to lead a revolution from below."

In various societies, the group that overthrows the previous regime often intentionally executes
the elite of the previous group, including their offspring. Stalin systematically exterminated all the smart
people who were capable of antagonizing him: especially the kind of people who had the genes that allowed them
to make independent decisions, were executed. The 30 million victims of Stalin
included small independent farmers, small middle class entrepreneurs, and of course thousands of Polish
officers in the notorious "Katyn massacre", when Stalin decided to make sure that after Ploand was conqured people
who had the intelligence to organize any resistence were killed in advance.

The Cambodian dictator Pol Pot exterminated especially the educated people, and even educable people (people who
were wearing glasses, looked too intellectual, and hence also chosen for the killing fields.) If my memory is accurate, Pol Pot
was rejected by a university in France, and he was only accepted by a vocational school there, and he became jealous and
suspicious of educated people when he returned back to Cambodia...

When the Mongolians invaded Iran, they made physical exercise illegal, so thet people don't become
sufficiently physically fit to fight them after the conquest. I do not know if the Mongolians actually
executed especially those Iranians who looked pysically fit, but the trend was clear.

However, in the past, the ruling class did not think in terms of genetics when it exterminated the intelligent
families with leadership abilities... This was done in the mafia style, like Don Corleone,
only to get rid of the opponent and his sons, so that they cannot return for revenge.
But in the future, if a high-tech tyrant group takes over the world, then it is conceivable that
genetic social engineering will be applied to the conquered nations, where various casts
will be bred always with docile genes, even if they are bred for intelligence.

gcochran said at November 20, 2004 10:17 AM:

I don't think Jerry is right.

Invisible Scientist said at November 21, 2004 5:31 AM:

Errata: When I said that in the past the ruling class did nt think in terms of genetics
when exterminating people, the late 19th century racism, and the Nazi phenomenon immediately
appear as a counterexample. But the "genetics" in these cases was merely used to justify
illusions and fantasies of national groups, and it was only pseudo-science.... This is why
I did not not count the previous two centuries as a good example of the kind of genetic social
engineering that might materialize in this century, if the bad guys rule the world. Because this time
there will be a lot more science available to conduct crimes that were unimaginable before.

Pico said at November 22, 2004 1:51 PM:

Nobody in america can even call a spade a spade anymore? The israel first crowd which wants western asia made safe for israel comes up with rationalizations to justify america's military interventions. The same crowd is preparing the ground for a military attack on Iran.

gcochran said at November 22, 2004 2:53 PM:

I think that you're wrong. It is true that there is a widespread and incorrect notion that all populations have the same distribution of innate abilities - but I don't that explains why we invaded Iraq, or that it explains much of anything that happened after we invaded.

There was no spontaneous demand for war against Iraq. The Administration whipped that up - but their propaganda campaign fell on fertile ground, since the idea of stomping Arabs was appealing in the aftermath of 9-11, not that Iraq had anything to do with that. Racial vengeance appealed to a lot of people. Some openly endorsed it, John Derbyshire for example, but many more embraced it along with some dipshit rationalization, such as Iraq the Strategic Threat. Back in that prewar period,. not too many people were emphasizing the idea of Iraq as a democratic example. It wasn't a major talking point.
I think that that for most people who support the war, democracy in Iraq is an after-the-fact justification that allows us to kick the hell out of Iraq and feel virtuous about it at the same time. I don't think that this is a real ideology at all real ideologies are stuffed down the throat of every undergraduate, but nobody ever even heard of this one before 9-11. People believe in this in the same way that they believed that Douglas MacArthur was a hero in the spring of 1942: actually he was something of a screw-up in Bataan, but the American people needed a hero an so they created one in their imagination. We invaded Iraq, and there had to be a reason: since there was none, we had to make one up. It is harder to figure out particular individuals, but I would guess that Bush pushes this crap for reasons that have some overlap: sure it was politically useful - it certainly sold better than telling the truth about a useless war - but I'm sure that he too wants to feel good about himself.

I doubt if many soldies are Jacobins ( they haven't even _been_ to college) - but they want to feel good about themselves too. This leads to comical claims that the locals like them, which prove false the second any Arabic-speaker bothers to actually ask. It leads to young Marines telling reporters they're _sure_ that most of the locals in Fallujah really support them ( Fallujah!) - while the guy from Special Forces, who speaks the language, concludes that _all_ the Sunnis just plain hate us. Whic is nothing less than the truth: the Sunnis hate us, the Shi'ites are royally sick of us, and the Kurds think we're nuts.

The pinheads working for the CPA were hardly radical democrats. They just assumed that America has all the answers and that ignorance of the people you're ruling is strength. Nothing particularly new in that.
Why then did the Administration assume we would face no guerrilla war? And they did assume that: Tommy Franks, that fool, was talking about pulling most troops out just a week after taking Baghdad. 50K after 90 days, another 50 after another 90 days. Why did he make that mistake? Why, with the Israelis in Lebanon as recent examples?

Because they wanted to think it. You don't need an ideology for that; you can be mentally lazy and stupidly optimistic without having any ideology at all. Ignorance is the _default_ state. I mean, did Ambrose Burnside have an ideology? Sure there were contributing factors. Some of these guys had experienced the breakup of the Soviet block and, as usual, decided that the minoiscule piece of history they'd lived through is the whole story. Even then they must have missed out on the fun in Romania and Albania and Yugoslavia. Some came away from Afghanistan feeling omnipotent - I guess we fired the guy who whispers in your ear during the triumphal parade.


Gregory Cochran

Randall Parker said at November 22, 2004 6:25 PM:

Greg,

There are two things that, while they overlap, have to be considered separately:

1) Motive.

2) Expected results.

There were a number of motives for attacking Iraq and different factions promoting an attack had different priorities for being for it. Some just wanted revenge against Arabs for 9/11. Others wanted to help Israel. Still others wanted to preempt nuclear proliferation or promote the spread of democracy as a way to eliminate the conditions that give rise to terrorism. Yet others saw this as a way to increase oil production in non-Saudi fields. You can argue that one of these motives is traitorous and others naive. I'm probably leaving out some other motives.

But some of these motives only make sense if you have a Jacobin or other really wrong view of human nature. A domestic insurgency makes each motive or goal more expensive (or impossible) to achieve. Real facts about human nature make the theory of spreading democracy in the Middle East as a way to stop terrorism ridiculous for a few different reasons.

Imagine all the meetings about the Iraq attack that were held by senior Bush Administration officials. Do you think any of them ever mentioned the IQs of Iraq's scientists in trying to decide whether the Iraqis are doing much to make WMDs? Do you think they ever mentioned IQ in discussing the prospects for democracy there?

Or look at the Jacobin view that religious beliefs could be replaced rather rapidly in the French populace. The Jaobins at one point introduced a 10 day week. Isn't the denial of the problems that Islam poses for democracy even dumber than the Jacobin attitude toward religion?

The Administration assumed no guerrilla war because they assumed Iraqis would all rapidly flock to the banner of freedom and democracy. They were all just noble savages waiting to be free. Israel did not invade Lebanon to impose a democracy. The US fantasy is that we invaded Iraq for that reason.

gcochran said at November 24, 2004 12:54 AM:

I think it was ignorance, conbined with some manipulation. Bush doesn't know a damn thing about the Middle East: he was at the mercy of powerpoint - afterwards, he wanted to feel good about himself. The people making the slides wanted us to invade Iraq: some for comprehensible reasons, certain key people (Cheney, mainly) for reasons that I don't yet understand.

I think that that Jacobin-type talk is a just a story for the rubes. I don't take it seriously. If we had wanted elections in Iraq, we could have had them last year. Certainly our enthusiasm for democracy doesn't extend to the point of tolerating the wrong guys winning.

Jerry is trying to find a way to explain what happened while avoiding mentioning certain facts, facts he's afraid to talk about.

Tom West said at November 26, 2004 1:28 PM:

I'm not going to comment on whether men and women are created equal or not. I will say, that America has, under that assumption, displaced all other civilizations that did not make that assumption. The trouble is that the measure of man is not easily defined, and will be twisted to the advantage of those who wield power. If America chose to forsake the assumption of equality of men and women at birth, within two or three generations, it would become as monstrous as the regimes we now seek to overthrow.

It's said that the most efficient government is a benevolent dictatorship. Why don't we see more of them? Because in the end, it it guaranteed that no matter how fair and just the dictator may be at the beginning, his successors will take a course that leads to a dreadful end.

Once again, an assumption of equality is an absolute necessity for a strong society. The truth, in this case, is immaterial.

I look forward to seeing a counterexample of a strong society that genetically separates its citizens. Ants come to mind :-).

Randall Parker said at November 26, 2004 1:38 PM:

Tom,

The USSR believed that all men and women are created equal. They thought everyone was so equal that New Soviet Man could be molded to make the ideal equal society. How'd that work out for them?

So are you unwilling to define in what way people are equal? How can you make "an assumption of equality" if you are unwilling to define what you mean by that? How am I supposed to get on board and defend a society based on equality if what is meant by equality is too touchy a subject to even be defined? Just go with whatever feels good?

The truth is very material.

Tom West said at November 26, 2004 5:24 PM:

The USSR believed that all men and women are created equal.

Not relevant. They also thought that men need air to breath. Does this make it wrong?

They thought everyone was so equal that New Soviet Man could be molded to make the ideal equal society. How'd that work out for them?

Spurious. Assuming equality at creation does *not* mean that they can be molded. In fact, I'm not certain how equality has anything to do with molding. In further fact, I'd bet that people who decisively believe in inequality of man probably believe that some portions of the population are *more* susceptible to "molding" as you put it. However, that's just speculation on my part.

So are you unwilling to define in what way people are equal? How can you make "an assumption of equality" if you are unwilling to define what you mean by that?

No, I won't define equality. Instead, I'll define the outcome of the assumption of equality, as that's much more relevant. I believe that there must be equality of opportunity to reach one's potential. I believe that it is wrong to assume the existence of characteristics unless they become manifest. Not touchy-feely at all.

Now, you've accused me... Let's turn it around :-). If you're prepared to say that man is *not* created equal, just what ramification would you give that assumption in American society? No cowarding out and saying that all *Americans* are created equal :-).

Randall Parker said at November 27, 2004 12:02 PM:

The communist USSR's belief in the equality of people certainly is relevant. You made it out that a belief in equality is at the root of America's success (unless I misunderstand). Yet such a belief is obviously not a magic elixir for producing successful societies.

As to New Soviet Man and moldability of humans: So you think some form of equality that you refuse to define does not have anything to do with whether people are moldable? Suppose people are not moldable. Then why did the Soviet Union fail while the United States succeeded? Are Americans innately and unmoldably more equal to each other in some way that Soviet citizens were not?

You want equality of opportunity? Why? You refuse to define what it is about humans that make them deserving of this equality. Or is it that you favor it on pragmatic grounds as a way to ensure high living standards? I certainly favor a free market for that reason.

The term "equality" gets used to advocate for equality of opportunity and equality of outcomes. But it also gets used to refer to the idea of being equal before the law. This isn't quite the same thing as equality of opportunity but obviously it close to it.

Man is not created equal in weight or eye color or height or in susceptibility to diseases or in intelligence or in drive or in propensity to commit acts of violence or to be honest or to engage in acts of marital infidelity and in many other ways. So in what way do you think man is created equal?

Tom West said at November 27, 2004 12:38 PM:

My thesis was "assumption of inequality leads to weak society". I'm assuming that you passed grade 10 logic and aren't going to conflate this thesis with "assumption of equality leads to strong society". There are many other missteps that you can take on the path to success.

Yet such a belief is obviously not a magic elixir for producing successful societies.

Yet it seems that the lack of such belief *is* a magic elixir for producing unsuccessful societies.

You want equality of opportunity? Why? You refuse to define what it is about humans that make them deserving of this equality. Or is it that you favor it on pragmatic grounds as a way to ensure high living standards?

I'm pragmatic, and it's more than just living standards. A society absent that assumption soon degenerates both economically and morally. We soon see certain lives intrinsically holding less value than others.

Elaborating on this, I think that the failure to assume equality leads to the general feeling that man is but an animal, which, of course we are. However, when we start seeing mankind as *no more* than animals with brains, and human beings have no intrinsically greater worth, then we are strongly on the path to becoming monsters. Biological warfare is much easier to undertake when you consider the death of countless victims as no more terrible that eliminating undesirable animals.

You may counter that the assumption of inequality of attributes should not lead to assumption of inequality of worth. I'm telling you that it will, and to deny it denies human experience throughout the ages.

Tom West said at November 27, 2004 1:00 PM:

As to New Soviet Man and moldability of humans: So you think some form of equality that you refuse to define does not have anything to do with whether people are moldable? Suppose people are not moldable. Then why did the Soviet Union fail while the United States succeeded? Are Americans innately and unmoldably more equal to each other in some way that Soviet citizens were not?

Sorry, I'm totally unable to parse this paragraph. More to the point, I can't really see how equality relates to whether people are moldable. (I believe that the experiments of 1930's USSR proved that people are influencable, but not what I would call moldable. I don't believe that anyone is going to create the communist superman...)

The term "equality" gets used to advocate for equality of opportunity and equality of outcomes.

Equality of opportunity is a good both economically and ethically. Equality of outcomes is a lot more tricky. While it is nice to say that we should only reward success, societies that have too much inequality (justified by talent or not) tend not to be stable or successful. This is not suprising. Society only works if the vast majority of citizens feel they gain more by participating within society rather than by breaking the rules. So, it is in the interest of everyone to make everyone feel that they are benefitting from society. If this requires redistribution, then I'm all for it.

Of course, total equality of outcome is a disaster. But only slightly more than a total absence of equality in outcomes. Like everything else in life, the sweet spot is in the middle.

Man is not created equal in weight or eye color or height or in susceptibility to diseases or in intelligence or in drive or in propensity to commit acts of violence or to be honest or to engage in acts of marital infidelity and in many other ways. So in what way do you think man is created equal?

Once again, I'm arguing that we must *assume* that men are created equal. Actual equality is immaterial (and a rather dangerous study, since it, of course, does lead to assumption of inequality).

You still haven't answered my question. What ramifications do *you* see for American society if we stopped assuming that all men are created equal?

Peter said at November 29, 2004 7:22 AM:

The USSR believed that all men and women are created equal.
No. That was their public position. The private one held by the aristocracy (nomenklatura) was that the public were sheep to be lead. They had a massive disconnect between their public speech and private speech. Similar to the disconnect used by the Saudis about 9/11 and AlQeda (in KSA, they claim that 9/11 was a mossad plot, and that AQ is a front for the mossad, also that binLaden is some good-old-boy who has been lead astray by the Israelis; way different from what they pretend to tell us). Similar to what is (un)spoken here in the states.

My opinion is that the drumbeat of war to invade Iran is an excuse to cut and run from the debacle in Iraq.

Kull the Valusian said at January 19, 2005 8:06 AM:


Is that old fascist wreck named jerry pournelle still alive?

When I was a teenager it happened to me to course through some of his militaristic-SF-books-for-retards
and I found them dumb and uninspiring even then,

beware...I was 14-15 yo back then!!!

Then I discovered he MEANT the kind of bullshit he wrote, like all good crackpots (l.r. hubbard anyone??).

The mere idea gives me the laughs even now.

Interesting how after that his beloved u.s. fumbled the whole iraqi issue by launching an unprovoked invasion on phoney pretexts aganist the better counseil of the civilized world he pulls this 'stunt'
of blaming 'jacobins' for the faults of his government.

If 'jacobins' were really in control of the united states of america non of this crap would ever have happened,

perhaps jerry boy should put down his toy soldiers and look at the example set by the EUROPEAN UNION which in 2004 brought 10 nations more in the folds of democracy without having to fire a single shot.

It's funny how a supposed war veteran can be so pigheadedly fascistic and militaristic (he was in Korea, wasn't he?) oh but he served in an artillery unit so probably he never saw any real combat and so cannot judge its horrors and futility.

Randall Parker said at January 19, 2005 11:20 AM:

Kull,

Character attacks are not persuasive. You might have enjoyed writing your rant. But it is not going to persuade anyone. Actually, you've just made Jerry look more reasonable in comparison.

The EU: Not all the nations in the world are at the same levels of political development. Therefore solutions that work in some regions do not work in other regions. The EU is not a model for how to solve all the political problems of the world.

Oh, and those nations that joined the EU were already democracies. Don't expect the EU to accept any dictatorships into their fold and then to magically convert them into democracies.

Rob said at March 8, 2005 1:14 PM:

> Interesting how after that his beloved u.s. fumbled the whole iraqi issue by launching an
> unprovoked invasion on phoney pretexts aganist the better counseil of the civilized world
> he pulls this 'stunt' of blaming 'jacobins' for the faults of his government.

Actually, JerryP was against the invasion _before_ it happened, and warned against it.

As he has said several times since, he "takes no pleasure in being proved right."


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