Podcast Appearances, Responding to Critics, and Why a Russian Invasion Is Likely
I’ve appeared on quite a few podcasts over the last few weeks. I’m providing links for convenience but they should be available wherever you get your podcasts. Some can be found on YouTube too by searching for them, though there aren’t any videos. The podcasts are, in order of their release, the following:
The McGill International Review (released 1/20/22)
The Scott Horton Show (1/23/22)
Power Problems, from the Cato Institute (1/25/22)
The Politics of Everything, from the Salem Center at UT Austin, with Bryan Caplan as host (1/31/22)
Urbane Cowboys (2/1/22)
As these discussions were all part of my book promotion, they cover much of the same ground, but by all means listen to all of them if you are a superfan. If you’re choosing which ones to listen to, they can be broken up into three categories.
I’d say the interview with Caplan is the most unique, as he comes up with creative questions and goes into my personal story and how I got here. Some of the more interesting questions others haven’t asked include “What inherited identities matter to you?”, “To what extent are you anti-anti-Putin/Orban/Xi?”, and “What year did it become disadvantageous to be white/male/heterosexual in the labor market, if you believe it has?”
Power Problems and the Scott Horton Show both focus only on foreign policy. The former is more on the book itself, and the latter is tilted towards current events.
With McGill and Urbane Cowboys, you get mostly foreign policy stuff, but some other ideas mixed in. Urbane Cowboys is the only one that was recorded after my article on what’s driving Russia hate, so if you want more on that topic you may decide to listen to that one.
I also point the reader to two recent discussions of my book, one from Caplan, and the other from Robin Hanson. Caplan includes long quotations summarizing the main ideas, and Hanson expresses agreement with the general thesis of the book while saying it was too long and he would’ve been convinced by an article-length treatment of the topic. I think that’s right, but only because someone like Hanson is already inclined to agree with the main points; my aim was to disabuse political scientists and casual observers of international relations of notions that are common for a reason.
Robin is correct of course when he writes that he understands why I wrote the book as I did, since “academics demand sweat and impressive mastery of literatures.” That’s why I’m glad not to be an academic anymore; I can write to be understood, rather than to signal how much I’ve read or how many long sentences I can produce consistent with the rules of English grammar.
Even if you are uninterested in international relations theory or are already convinced of its main ideas, I think the book is still worth reading for its analysis of topics like the war on terror and the US response to the rise of China from a perspective that I believe is, in all humility, better than what has been used before. It’s a work of history as much as one of political science.
On a different note, if you want to hear two normie academics discuss me, here’s a video. Robert Gressis, on the left, seems to be a moderate or libertarian-ish guy who likes my stuff, while David Leitch on the right seems to find my ideas very disturbing.
There’s a lot I could respond to, but I’ll start by pointing out that Leitch is right that I don’t give reasons why people should be anti-woke. Not every writer has to do everything. I think ideas like “IQ actually measures intelligence,” “objective standards are good,” “disparities don’t imply discrimination,” and “men and women are different” have enough people championing them. If you want to know why various aspects of wokeness are wrong, there is an entire universe of writers you can find making the same points ad infinitum, going back half a century now. I came to the wokeness debate from the perspective of someone who has watched the discourse for a while and has grown frustrated by how much mental energy has been spent on the topic without the anti-wokes getting anywhere. So I try to steer people who already agree with me in the right policy direction.
The other thing I’ll respond to is the question of whether I’m a “Caesarist.” I would say no, I’m more of an agnostic on what forms of government states should adopt and think it depends on historical and cultural circumstances. There may be some confusion here because the standard view is to be pro-democracy, and not believing that democracy is morally superior to other systems makes one sound like they’re anti-democracy in that context. Right now I’m for whatever system that masks children the least.
A deeper problem with the democracy discourse is I’m extremely skeptical that we have a good definition of the concept or how we can measure it. Is the filibuster anti-democratic or necessary to protect minorities? What about the Supreme Court? Is misinformation or the repression of speech more of a threat to democracy? I find such debates boring and dumb, and people clearly define democracy by whether they get what they want. Moreover, the weaponization of the concept of “democracy” has become a way for elites to delegitimize resistance to their ideas at home and seek out conflicts with other countries abroad.
For these reasons, instead of debating what is or isn’t democratic, I prefer debating substantive issues directly, rather than worrying about procedural ones, and judging systems by the results they provide. Thus I’m pretty impressed with the government of China, but not those of Ukraine or San Francisco.
Speaking of Ukraine, Metaculus has an invasion in 2022 at 49%. That’s about where I was, but I’m upping my prediction to 65% based on recent events. Namely, America refuses to even pretend to address Russia’s core concerns, and the choices for Putin now are to try to settle this once and for all or look like a man that tried a bluff that failed in the most humiliating manner, while ensuring that Ukraine accelerates its turn to the West. I’ve been surprised by the unwillingness of the Biden administration to show any respect towards the security concerns of another nuclear armed nation or give it any kind of face saving way out of the crisis. The sad part is this is probably smart politics, as Russia hate is mostly driven by passions divorced from any rational national interest, and, as I’ve written before, any president who tried to make peace under these circumstances would be crucified for it by Congress and the media.
Here’s a thread I put together the other day of clips from a Putin press conference in late December.
I recommend watching all of it. Here he sounds like a man who has had enough, and there hasn’t been any progress since then. Under such circumstances, and without any Western concessions, it’s difficult to see how you can call back 100,000 plus troops and say “never mind.”
I think you give the Chinese government too much credit. The fundamentals of the Chinese economy - natural resources geography, and the quality of its workforce - would predict that it'd be a pretty wealthy country. It was only because it had the worst policies in the world a few decades ago that it was as poor as Sub-Saharan Africa. I don't think it's given any indication of being a better government than the more developed Asian countries; it just used to be way way worse, and thus has had lots of catching up to do.
Hilarious to me that in that podcast discussing you, Freitch claims several times that he doesn't believe cancel culture and wokeness are powerful forces of progressivism in the working world. Several minutes later, he lets it slip that he no longer officially identifies to his university as white, but as Ashkenazi, because "it's just something I've been working out". So Freitch claims he doesn't believe wokeness is harmful or antagonistic towards whites, but he's also taking steps to set himself apart racially from the list of white faculty. He even admits his workplace only keeps tabs on those numbers for the sake of their DEI statistics (and presumably, future hiring initiatives).