Friday, September 15, 2006

Sailer on War and the West

Steve Sailer has written up a new perspective on the military history and future of the West. I'm not impressed.

"America actually does have a long term strategic rival that is worth worrying about. It's a country with about 18 times the population of Iran and about a standard deviation higher average IQ."

Most likely the West won't lose its preeminence because China is just too strong. I am not as impressed by cultural IQs as Sailer. The two most flattering to Chinese potential, and less methodologically suspect, ways of understanding their future power are population and economic growth. Now, the population gap looks huge if you compare China and the US but that is what I would expect Europe to bring to the mix if there were a genuine civilisational clash. Europe's half a billion people begins to make the numerical odds far better.

As such, China would need incomes a lot closer to the Western norm to be able to rival us for sheer economic power. Here people rely on assumptions that China can maintain its current level of growth for significant lengths of time; it cannot do this and it cannot maintain impressive growth beyond a certain level with the mix of institutions it has now. Grand projections of the future power of the Chinese state should always be taken with a pinch of salt. China is one to watch but it need not necessarily be an enemy and it will not necessarily become remotely as powerful as the West.

"Three years ago the big threat to America was supposed to be Saddam Hussein, but he turned out to be an old man pursuing his literary interests (when he was captured in his hole in the ground, he was reading Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment) by writing romance novels. So this year, the most dangerous man in the world is supposed to be Iran's newly elected President Borat, who is said to be re-assembling the Persian Empire of Cyrus the Great, mostly, it seems, by running his mouth off nonstop."

Leaving aside the ridiculous in this paragraph, Sailer is working on the assumption that our civilisational defeat is going to happen when the power of the next greatest civilisation exceeds ours. I see no reason to think this will be the case. While there is a strong case, the Ferguson core hypothesis, that Britain's imperial power was spent in war with its most powerful adversaries most great powers are defeated by a steady erosion of their will to defend their interests.

Rome and Constantinople are the classic cases here but others exist in Keegan's selective account of cultures he sees as less martial. All of these nations declined, in Keegan's view, not because they were opposed by a smarter, larger or richer West but because they were peaceable folks not willing to fight the West. If this is the case, the historical analogy holds, and our defeat will not be caused by the strength of our enemies why is the relative strength of our enemies of such concern to Sailer in his assessment of different threats?

The Keegan hypothesis I find equally weak. The Chinese were capable of fighting wars with some spectacular casualty figures throughout their history. Similarly, while the Japanese managed to restrict the drive to more powerful weapons this would seem to be more a matter of a lack of competition between nations and samurai social dominance than any lack of martial instinct. It seems contradictory that in this period people chose to stick to combat 'face to face' with swords because anything else was too brutal whereas earlier in Sailer's extract Keegan's thesis is all about how brutal combat with swords is.

His thesis works if you treat the eras in which empires are created, the Mamelukes, the Mongolians or Early Islam as outsiders and, therefore, to be excluded from an analysis of the cultures themselves. However, that he has excluded the periods in which these empires rose to power emphasises that the less martial cultures were the declining forms of the same cultures which had been deeply violent earlier on. In their rise they were all warrior peoples.

To pretend that the Mongolians, who would become the Yuan dynasty, could not fight a war with European brutality is to ignore the histories that Islamic culture has handed down to us. When the West came to dominate China it dominated a, Manchurian in origin, Qing dynasty which was, itself, no stranger to serious wars in its earlier years when it conquered Han China.

The West's uniqueness is not, then, that it was a martial culture able to dominate those not willing to do so themselves, these fill history. The proper question to be asked is how these martial cultures transition to something more peaceable but fatally vulnerable rather than trying to answer the false question of what we do about an imagined unique characteristic of the West.

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