"Project for a New Confucian Century": Mainstream academic publication promotes 9/11 investigation

 

Excerpts from a paper that deals with American empire, war propaganda, and the need to investigate 9/11 (especially at the end).
These discussions are embedded in a paper on the application of Confucian philosophy. 

 
"Project for a New Confucian Century" by Kurtis Hagen
Chapter 8 in A Future Without Borders? (Brill, 2016) Edited by Eddy M. Souffrant
 
ABSTRACT: In explicit contrast to the Project for a New American Century, this chapter explores the viability of two alternative visions of a Confucian world order… I end with an appeal for intellectuals to better fulfill an important role, namely, exposing the myths that are used to justify inappropriate violence.

 

One year before the horrendous "attacks" of September 11, 2001, a document entitled Rebuilding America's Defenses was produced by a neo-conservative think-tank called the Project for a New American Century (PNAC)--it is sometimes referred to as "the PNAC document". It is a blueprint for strengthening U.S. hegemony. Recognizing that their recommendations were a "tough sell" the document's authors write, "[T]he process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event--like a new Pearl Harbor". Then, after 9/11, the supporters of this Project, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and other prominent neo-conservatives, shamelessly exploited the tragedy, and the fear it engendered, in the pursuit of the initiatives outlined in the PNAC document. As Naomi Klein puts it, "The mantra 'September 11 changed everything' neatly disguised the fact that for free-market ideologues and the corporations whose interests they serve, the only thing that changed was the ease with which they could pursue their ambitious agenda".

The results included the disastrous Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and the destruction of the U.S. economy. While the authors of the PNAC document achieved most of their proximate goals (a military buildup, two wars, profits for the properly connected, and a more powerful executive branch), the ultimate results appear to be virtually the opposite of those desired. The American imperial project is imploding. The question is no longer: "Will America achieve full-spectrum dominance?" It is: "Will America avoid collapsing into depression and bankruptcy?"

 

Looked at from a Confucian perspective, the root problem was a moral failure, and the result was predictable. As an early Confucian philosopher wrote, "One who uses the state to establish appropriateness (yi) will be a true king... those who scheme for power will perish". To be generous, there is a sense in which the PNAC group can be seen as well-meaning utopians. They just had an ineffective strategy. But the reason it was ineffective is that the moral base was a mirage. At best, the neo-conservative authors were self-deluded, for their project was transparently self-serving.

So, any desirable world order should be designed with sufficiently reliable mechanisms for preventing the devolution into that [a stable tyranny]. This seems extremely important, and it is a task not easily accomplished. Yet, from what I can see, those pining for a "New World Order" show no sign of interest in this issue, or even awareness of the problem. Instead of addressing this issue philosophically--that is to say, with stubborn persistence--the world lunges awkwardly toward larger regional governance with less democracy and fewer safeguards. The formation of the European Union is perhaps the clearest example. And, what had been called the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, which involved an almost entirely undemocratic process, represents a less mature stage of what may become similar unification process. (That is, unless the European Union falls apart first.)

Xunzi provides a strategy for Good to win, once and for all. Alan Watts, the controversial popularizer of Asian philosophies, suggests that while Good must always be winning, it must not triumph. He calls the effort to eradicate evil "the game of black versus white", and suggests that the notion that white must win is paradoxical, because if white does win, the fun is over. I would add that "white must win" has an ugly history, and present. The project to win once and for all is particularly suspect when "Good" must use morally dubious methods to achieve its supposedly pure ends, destroying cities in the name of peace. "The war to end all wars", of course, didn't. Imposing democracy, enforcing freedom--we see these projects failing in Iraq and Afghanistan, predictably. Consider one more example:

 

In order to eradicate wrong-thinking, America's "pre-eminent legal scholar" and Obama appointee, Cass Sunstein, along with his Harvard Law School colleague, Adrian Vermeule, recommend "cognitive infiltration" of groups whose views they deem to be based on a "crippled epistemology"--as if the deceptive practices involved in such infiltrations are epistemically faultless. We should lie, because Truth must win. On this view, we can't just muddle through, allowing people to freely assemble and share their ideas trusting that, although not all beliefs will be true, or even well-grounded, in the long run this is the best practice, both epistemically, and in terms of exhibiting appropriate tolerance, if not respect.

 

The attitude that "white must win" may in part explain the attraction of what some call a "New World Order". Looked at generously, the desire for a New World Order can be seen as an attempt for Good to finally win. (Less generously, it is seen as an attempt for Evil to win--but never mind that.) In other words, it is not a strategy meant to help us muddle though circumstances as they arise, ameliorating problems and working towards modest ends-in-view. It is rather an attempt to settle the world into a fixed, stable, secure condition. It is an "endgame", to bring an end to risk, and make us secure from all evils. It is utopian-- if it is not dystopian. I will not argue here that this will either fail or succeed-disastrously, but I do want to at least suggest that those are among the most likely outcomes. And I want to present an alternative, which I believe can be situated rather comfortably in traditional Chinese ways of thinking. Namely, I would like to suggest that the most attractive Project for a New Confucian Century is one that involves a continual process of doing one's best to harmonize the constantly changing ingredients of international relations.

Of course, it would be unwise to pin our hopes for peace on a mere article of faith. But the relevant elements of this view are not simply ungrounded assumptions. After all, the notion that there are consistent dynamics in the way the world works, at least some of which trace back to regularities in human interactions based on roughly universal human dispositions and tendencies, can hardly be denied. This is precisely why the failure of the PNAC project was predictable. There is reasonableness to Mencius' moralpolitik. People do respond favorably to being treated well, and they do respond unfavorably to abuse. The logic regarding moral competition is similar to the logic of Russell's argument about scientific competition. Truly humane or benevolent (ren) government, which Confucians view as an expression of our fullest humanity, tends to produce favorable conditions that ultimately provide decisive competitive advantages. Even if the language of "tian" sounds mystical, it is translatable to a language and logic that is downright commonsensical.
...
China cannot be a world leader and at the same time retain the excuse that if it allows free speech it might collapse into chaos. Where political stability is both fragile and of paramount importance, it may be morally acceptable to have stricter restrictions on free speech than would be most conducive to harmony in more stable circumstances. However, one cannot claim to be a world leader with a philosophy that is worthy of emulation, while simultaneously claiming to be so fragile as to be endangered by a few dissenting voices. Between these two options, (1) that it is ready for leadership, or (2) that it remains necessary to stifle dissent, China must choose.

Now, some people actually argue that the U.S. has been doing mostly good around the world. We have been striving to be ren--just look at our "humanitarian" interventions! For example, former U.S. Secretary of State, James Baker asserts, "Generally speaking, when America is involved internationally we have been a force for peace and stability. Most countries know that we don't want their territory, we don't want their resources, and so forth". But this claim does not survive scrutiny. Indeed, to believe this one must ignore most of the history of U.S. interventions during the past half-century, both overt and covert, in Latin America and around the world. From the overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953 to the invasion of Iraq fifty years later, and so much unnecessary carnage in between--not to mention the continuation of current misadventures--the U.S. has acted shamefully in the pursuit of petty advantages and profits, often supporting "friendly" dictators while undermining democratically elected governments. This is what must change. But it cannot change without rigorous self-honesty. And this leads me to my last topic.

 

An Obstacle to a Peaceful World Order

I see a serious obstacle to any significant movement towards international harmony. And it is not a difference in value or culture. The problem involves different understandings of fact. It is a problem of competing myths. I'm talking about Straussian myths, the "noble lies"--like James Baker's comment above--that enable imperial and other pernicious projects. In order to achieve a stable international harmony we must expose these myths. Otherwise, greedy propagandists on all sides will use such myths to divide peoples and generate disastrous conflicts that serve the petty interests of a few.
In other words, the problem is epistemic. If we don't adequately investigate what is really going on in the "great game" of geo-strategy, we will not be able to achieve the understanding necessary to come to mutually beneficial arrangements.

So, in short, if we want peace in the world, the process starts with investigating things and gaining an adequate understanding of what is really going on. Here I will end by going back to the beginning. The Project for a New American Century was implemented in the first years of this century directly on the heels of the most devastating terrorist "attacks" in history. The official account of that tragedy, largely unquestioned in the academy, has been pivotal in garnering support for, or at least acceptance of, wars, torture, and the erosion of various legal rights. Now, an individual's understanding of the defining occurrence of this century cannot be adequate if one has made no effort to investigate the significant anomalies surrounding this event. I will briefly name just three anomalies that need adequate explanations.

 

(1) A forty-seven-story skyscraper, "Building 7", collapsed at freefall acceleration (9.81 m/s^2) for over 100 feet, or approximately eight stories. This fact is acknowledged by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

 

(2) A team of scientists have discovered, in various samples of World Trade Center dust, a highly engineered substance with chemical characteristics of as well as physical properties of nano-thermite, an incendiary with explosive properties, as that substance is described in articles published by researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and similar facilities.

 

(3) There are various mutually-corroborating strands of evidence for temperatures far too high to be explained by office fires or jet fuel.

 

These three facts, along with many other largely ignored considerations, suggest that the official story of 9/11 is not accurate in important respects. Indeed, it is hard to explain them without resorting to the postulation of both insider complicity in the events and a cover-up of that complicity. One cannot expect peace in this century so long as the most significant event of the century, the formative event, the event foreshadowed in the original PNAC document, goes uninvestigated by so many scholars and journalists around the world. It is, after all, the dubious official interpretation of this event that serves as a key premise for war, and torture, as well as universal surveillance. To allow those who desire empire to determine "the facts" is to give the game away. As Orwell famously wrote, " 'Who controls the past', ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future'". Any viable world order, Confucian or otherwise, must be characterized by open, honest, and thorough inquiry, not manipulative propaganda.  

 

(This material was originally written for a conference in 2011, and has just recently been published, July 2016.)