Dialectics: Power and Coordination

Manichaeism: A dualistic philosophy dividing the world
between good and evil principles or regarding matter as intrinsically
evil and mind as intrinsically good.

Simple models are a big help in reasoning about stuff. They help
you visualization. They generate analogies. They are easy to teach.
They give course work an outline. Often they can be tested. They
provide a coloring book that the scholar or student can then fill

The simplest models are the Boolean ones, the dialectics: good and
evil, black and white, rich and poor, north and south, left and
right. These are great for debating clubs. They are much easier to
project into each other: good, black, poor, south? Of course
projection can be dangerously simplistic. While models are good for
graduate seminars dialectics are good for PR messaging.

That said this is a thought
provoking essay
by Robert Kagan on the growing culture gap between
the United States and Europe. There is little doubt which overly
simplistic dialect he’s projecting this into.

The title is
“Power and Weakness”.
I’d rather that he’d called the essay “Muscle or

Kagan is a conservative who edited the book “Present Dangers”. A
very crude caricature of which is that America must not fail to take
up the white man’s burden for should we fall to who will create the
foundation upon which liberal democracies may thrive? Carry a
big stick, and use it.

The dialectic Kagan’s essay chews on is that the Americans are more
drawn to the use of their superpowers. In the military sphere the our
power seems mind boggling disproportionate to the rest of the planet.
Europeans are drawn to using multinational negotiation to tackle hard
problems. They have had a lot of practice including two world wars
where they choose to try muscle rather than speech. This dialectic
arises from fundamental differences about which tools the two camps
have at hand. We have a powerful military; they have deep talents at
multinational negotiation.

The dialectic also arises out of an even more fundamental aspect of
how power operates. If the power is distributed disproportionately to
a very few those few have little trouble coordinating it’s
application. If, on the otherhand, power is spread out a little more
uniformly amoung the players then then to get stuff done the players
need to coordinate actions to achieve goals that benefit them.
Concentrated power has the luxury of authoritarianism, a diverse
middle class must use the tedious tools of a liberal democracy.

Those with the power to act can and usually do. By necessity those
in the second tier must be more skilled at coordinating their actions
if they wish to have ‘similar power’. But then, usually in these
kinds of power struggles the second teir find a new form of power,
something that goes around the “The Maginot Line” of the old

What I think Kagan misses is that the Europeans
are only just beginning to figure out how to use the power that
their unification brings them. That when they do that power
will be different in character than American power. That
difference will make it hard for American’s understand.

It is a classic story amoung your business school crowd.
Upstart with alternate model of how to go about a business
displaces existing player that has become muscle bound.
Don’t fight the last war. We live in interesting times.

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