Walter Russell Mead and Leon Botstein. CREDIT: Amanda Ghanooni.
Walter Russell Mead and Leon Botstein. CREDIT: Amanda Ghanooni.

Crisis of the Liberal Order

May 18, 2017

What explains the global resurgence of populism and the rise of political actors on the right? And what are the effects on longstanding alliances, international institutions, and accepted norms? Don't miss this lively conversation with Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, and international affairs expert Walter Russell Mead.

JAMES KETTERER: Good evening, everyone. Thank you for joining us tonight. Sorry for the minor delay, but we're happy to see a full house for this interesting and important event.

I am Jim Ketterer. I'm the director of the Bard Globalization and International Affairs (BGIA) program. We have a partnership for our lecture series with the Carnegie Council, so I'm very happy that the president of the Carnegie Council, Joel Rosenthal, has invited us here tonight to take on this important subject.

Before that, I thought I might just mention what the Bard Globalization and International Affairs program is. It is a program that brings students, not only from our campus in Annandale in the Hudson Valley, but from our international network across the world. We have students here represented from our campus in Russia and in Kyrgyzstan, also from our exchange partners, and from students across the country. They come to New York, they study, they do internships, and they experience all that New York City has to offer.

One of those things that they experience is a monthly lecture series that we run, the James Clarke Chace Lecture Series, which is named after the co-founder of the BGIA program. He also was the former editor of The World Policy Journal and Foreign Affairs magazine. Foreign Affairs is a generous supporter of this lecture series.

Our next lecture, which is going to be here at the Carnegie Council, will be in October, so pay attention for that. We will have Professor Timothy Snyder from Yale.

Let me turn it over to our speakers. We have Professor Walter Russell Mead, who is the James Clarke Chace Professor as well as a distinguished fellow at the Hudson Institute; and president of Bard College, Leon Botstein, who is not only here at the Carnegie Council tonight but will be conducting at Carnegie Hall tomorrow night.

With that, I turn it over to our speakers.


I am going to ask you a question, Walter. These very nice people have come to join us. The topic that was advertised was "The Crisis of the Liberal Order." I think in more common language that means that people see the Trump election and the fear of a potential—turned out not to be the caseLe Pen victory, the success of Erdogan in Turkey, the success of Putin, of Orban in Hungary, the Kaczynski brothers, Brexit; that somehow a postwar stability based on the Four Freedoms, the United Nations, a consensus of what the rule of law meant, and what freedom and human rights, the process of decolonialization, and retreat of conventional imperialism, all of this—that this has somehow gone awry, and that there is a darkness of a kind of instinct for autocracy, a belief that there is something corrupt and ineffective about democracy, a lot of angry people it seems out there, and a kind of rage.

Was there a liberal order to begin with; and, if there was one, is it in crisis? Where are we in this country and also within the European-North American context?

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Leon, I will say, being president of a university teaches you to ask good questions. That is maybe the most searching question anybody has ever asked me.

It is interesting because in some ways the post-war order—and I think we can talk about in two stages: there is the post-World War II, post-1945 order; and then there is the post-Cold War order, which was kind of a second helping of that sort of policy—in many ways, those eras have fulfilled the promises that people spoke of.

When you look at the reduction in global poverty levels, the numbers of people who have exited from absolute poverty all over the world in the last 25 years, it is an astounding number. There has never been in the recorded history of the human race that kind of increase in prosperity for the poorest.

Up until quite recently, you could say that it was also the steady trend toward death in combat. Death in war continued, there were fewer refugees than ever before, but obviously the last few years we have seen that change in a pretty distressing and dramatic way.

On the one hand, you have this paradox: You have an order which has done, maybe not everything that its backers hoped—but nothing ever works out that way—but has actually succeeded in ways that few orders have. And yet, it does seem to be facing this kind of backlash.

One of the elements of it, and there are a lot of things—and I think you've got some thoughts on this, too—is the disintermediation of politics.

If you think about American political parties, they are really quite weak. There is a Republican identity and a Democratic identity, but if there were a strong Republican Party system, there would not be a President Donald Trump. The Democratic Party structures are also quite weak and challenged. If you look back two generations ago, party bosses and governors pretty much picked nominees. I'm not sure that we have improved on that system.

But there is also a sense that in this disintermediated world, people relate more easily to a person than to an institution. So, a Putin in Russia—they hate the bureaucrats, they hate the politicians, but there's Putin. The same with Erdogan in Turkey. Even, I think, in China you've seen Xi; since the death of Mao, it's hard to see a Chinese leader who has accrued the kind of power and developed the kind of public image that Xi has.

And, obviously, many others. Abe in Japan is probably the most powerful Japanese prime minister since the war. Modi in India is a different kind of leader. It is happening in Europe. It is happening in North America. I think Donald Trump, obviously, for many of the people who support him is someone like that.

The move toward a kind of personalistic politics clashes at a number of deep levels with the sort of institutional and procedural values that we think of as being the essence, in a sense, of liberal society.

LEON BOTSTEIN: It coheres with the diagnosis made a long time ago, after the First World War, by the German sociologist Max Weber, who was very pessimistic about the ability of long-term survival of a liberal democratic consensus and the attraction of a charismatic leader. But that charisma, it seems to me, is connected to another factor, which I think is very significant.

If you look, let's say, at Hungary, a relatively small place, there is a kind of a very aggressive belief in what we would call—what Orban himself called—"illiberal democracy"; that is to say, people wanting to shield themselves against two very stark realities.

One is migration and, with migration, a kind of confrontation with their imagined identity of themselves as homogeneous. So there is a fear of a kind of the end of the Roman Empire, masses of people migrating who have no historical connection with what they think their patrimony is, and, in addition, in nations that have a demographic decline. Russia has a demographic decline; all of Europe is experiencing a demographic decline. So actually they need people, and the Syrian migration, for example, to Germany has had an enormous economic benefit to them.

But there is this fear and this belief that this strong personality that you're talking about is going to protect their heritage, their culture, their identity as a kind of membership in a sacred group, and a kind of reductive nationalism that is somehow some kind of saving grace against a deep dissatisfaction with their own lives. I can't quite figure out why it's so popular. People don't want freedom; they think that's a kind of an opportunity to which they really don't have access, and it's kind of a trap, there's something hollow about it, especially after the fall of communism.

Before 1989, it was easy. We were better than the other guys; the other guys were totalitarian, they were against freedom; so we looked good by comparison. With them gone, we didn't turn out to look so positive.

The question is: How important do you think this fear of migration and the nationalist, patriotic—a very regressive one, very reductive; doesn't actually cohere with history—but there it is?

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: I think it's hugely important. This is one of the places, particularly in Europe, where the architects of post-Cold War Europe may not have thought things through enough.

If you look at European history, look at a map of Europe in 1870 and then look at a map of Europe in 1945, there are a lot more countries in 1945 than there were in the 1870s. There had been this process of almost a century of ethnic nationalisms, often fictional and created, in many cases inventing a language and saying "this is now our language, this is our culture," picking people almost at random from history books.

I was told, for example, the last time I went to Amsterdam, that Rembrandt wasn't actually considered a great painter in the Netherlands until after Belgium broke away in 1830 and they lost Rubens, so they needed a great Dutch painter for the Dutch nation, and there he was. You can see all over Europe the national museums, cultural institutes, and so on.

This was the most powerful force, more powerful even than socialism, which was its major rival, for a hundred years in Europe.

If you think about it, Europe fought dozens of wars, large and small, and these were wars of people, the most vicious wars since the wars of religion, when the enemy isn't an enemy state or an enemy army but a people.

At the end of that, the Europeans, after genocides, ethnic cleansing, and so on, had settled down into these sort of homogeneous nation-states, however fictionalized the identities were.

So the idea now is, "We don't have to think about that as a problem in statecraft anymore. Human nature has somehow changed. So there's no worry that if we abolish boundaries or whatever—the Greeks and the Turks are fine now—none of that will happen."

I think the architects of liberal Europe may have underestimated the problem of the back-surge.

LEON BOTSTEIN: I think, certainly, we were shocked by the outbreak of strife in the former Yugoslavia right after the fall of communism.

But I think the European Union—I think that's generally pretty well understood—by creating an economic and monetary union without the political infrastructure to really render a "United States of Europe," if you will, and that was clear. Merkel was very generous to Syrian refugees, but she was ruthless to the Greeks.

It would be comparable that we, New York State, send most of our tax money to Washington, and it doesn't come back to us. We are actually supporting a lot of people we might have some cultural contempt for—


LEON BOTSTEIN: —in Alabama or Mississippi or Arkansas. I don't want to offend anybody.


LEON BOTSTEIN: But poor states that we subsidize, that California subsidizes. But they're Americans, so we say it's part of what we do, that the states contribute to a federal government and it is distributed asymmetrically.

And that's exactly what the Germans didn't want to do. So, "Those Greeks, they're not Europeans." There was no constituency for Europe, except perhaps among students or the young or maybe among artists, a very marginal constituency.

But turning to the United States, I have another question. What has interested me as an observer—I'm not a political scientist, I'm just a citizen; it's not my field—I'm struck in the Trump case, which is our own case, that the support for him and that he got elected is a function of some kind of clear rage. It's not about ideology; it's not about conservatism. It's about a horror, which I can sympathize with, of bureaucracy, a horror of government, a misunderstanding of what government is actually, and some kind of irresponsible, rather break the toy than fix it.

It's interesting that the unimaginable behavior that the president has exhibited—everything from a kleptocratic behavior, to an irresponsible behavior on international stuff, to a callous behavior domestically—seems to have no impact in his support base. In other words, any other public official would have been behind bars with half the stuff that's going on between him and his family.

The interesting question is: What is going on? I fail to understand. I can understand a conservative. I can understand somebody who believes government should be small, and everybody on her or his own, some Ayn Rand follower who has a kind of Hobbesian view of human nature. I can understand that. I can understand someone who is a devoted reader of conservative theory or conservative politics and is opposed to the welfare state on some kind of theoretical or economic basis. That's not what this is.


LEON BOTSTEIN: What do you think it is?

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: In some ways, it is a sense that—one of the ways that I try to explain Fox to some friends in New York is that a lot of people in America, when they look at CNN, they think they're looking at something that is as biased and outrageous as Fox looks to liberals, and that Trump in that sense functions as a mirror. This is what they think the establishment is actually like.

For example, the Clinton family has probably done better than anybody else at bringing foreign money into American politics. The Clinton Foundation, which pays the salaries of Clinton political operatives in between elections and so on—and legally; I'm not accusing anybody of breaking any laws here—is capable of getting foreign interests. I'm sure the president of Kazakhstan wants to give money to the Clinton Foundation because of the terrific work it's doing on women's literacy in the Third World, which has long been a deep concern of his.

The Clintons know how to do this in a way that upper-middle-class intelligentsia can live with. People don't like it; it's pretty transparent. But there is enough of an appearance of wanting to defer to our sensibilities that they don't force it on us.

But to people who don't share that network of cultural sensibilities and signals, "crooked Hillary" was absolutely the right name. So Ivanka and Jared are Chelsea and Bill in the way that many people see this.

I'm not saying this is fair, but I'm saying that if you're outside the—

How many people here saw those films The Hunger Games: Mockingjay? Did anybody see those films? If you haven't, you probably should. It's this dystopian future where there's the capital and the regular Americans are starving in the districts. If you go see those, you'll see these crazy fashions and all this wonderful exotic behavior by the Establishment, which is just walking all over the regular people, has nothing but contempt, and they're mirroring that, I think.

LEON BOTSTEIN: But the interesting thing is that Trump is actually not the self-made person he represents.

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: No. He was not born in a log cabin.

LEON BOTSTEIN: Yes. He represents the very elite, and that behavior—also the disregard of the rules of propriety, and the inconsistency, as well as the malignancy of not actually being clear and truthful. The question is why it works in his case, why nothing seems to stick to him in the public imagination of the people who support him.

I understand those of us who didn't support him thinking that something should be done. But we are the elites, we are the enemy, we are part of the Establishment—I don't know what that really means.

But it's interesting that his popularity—maybe because he never claimed to have any principles or ethics or morals, so he was completely transparently who he was. Whereas all the other people seemed to be wolves in sheep's clothing, he was just a wolf and there were his teeth, so at least we know. That's why, for example, many women voted for him, because he actually represented what men are really like, as opposed to all those other people who are trying to masquerade as decent.

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: I remember a great New Yorker cartoon during the campaign that showed a billboard of a wolf, and the wolf says, "I will eat you," and one sheep is saying to another, "I find his honesty refreshing." [Laughter]

But I think there is that sense. A lot of people in America have long believed that all politicians are basically crooks.

LEON BOTSTEIN: But he's not a politician.

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Well, no. He is going to be a crook, too—"They're all crooks."

Think about it. If you drive a truck in the city of New York and you make deliveries and so on, the chances are you are paying people off all the time, whether it's policemen or meter maids or all kinds of things you have to do. So as you experience the political system, it is one of complete corruption, and all the politicians must be tolerating this.

I was on a co-op board in New York trying to get permits out of the city. We hired "expediters."

LEON BOTSTEIN: But, Walter, I have to say, when I think back, I've run an institution for a while, which is a not-for-profit institution chartered by the State of New York, and actually I wish I had many occasions to bribe someone to get something. You know what I mean? I'm looking all the time because I'm actually sympathetic to corruption on a limited scale. I've just never had the opportunity. So, as a person running an institution, I have to say actually I'm impressed by how much the rule of law rules and that actually I've never had this opportunity to bend them.

When people look at what we do—and I really put that at Reagan, I see Trump as the endpoint of something that began with Reagan, where the people began to believe—perhaps they believed it before—that government was their enemy, as opposed to the Lincolnesque idea that this is our government "of the people, for the people, by the people." That phraseology—why do I think government is my enemy?

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Lincoln didn't believe in a government that did very much. He was a pretty free-market kind of guy. So I'm not sure that it's that, Leon.

Look, I think, again, this is where we get a deep change that's happening in American life, which is that, after a hundred years of anguish and difficulty and pain, we figured out how to make an industrial society work so that factory workers weren't working seven days, 84 hours a week, and children weren't in coal mines. So we had a factory system, stable lifetime employment, reasonable levels of economic opportunity and equality, all of these things.

It took a long time. There were many decades and generations where the system didn't work and wasn't adequate to what we needed, and we had it.

But now, I think, with the information revolution, which is as consequential and profound as the Industrial Revolution was, we are once again in a system where we don't understand the system. We don't actually know how to create jobs. Our pension systems are based on working for the same employer for 30 years, but very few employers hire the same people for 30 years now.

There is a fundamental mismatch between our institutions, our ideas, and the conditions that people are in. For a lot of people, what this means is that their experience is that all of these institutions of government, which their parents perhaps trusted more, and grandparents even more, aren't working as well for them.

LEON BOTSTEIN: I think you have a point. There is a real impact that technology has had, first, to diminish the sense for the average person of the availability of meaningful work. So people are looking—"what is my role in the world going to be through work?"—and also the inevitable monopolization. The giants in the tech industry or the information industry—the Googles, the Amazons, the Apples—there is a kind of immense—this globalization, which means everything I wear is not made from my community.

I was recently, for example, in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the University of Nebraska, and my host—it was a conference on the humanities—was talking about Nebraska, he was a Nebraskan, and that after the war the average meal of the Nebraskan, 85 percent of it came from within 50 miles of that home table. Now 5 percent does because all of the agriculture in Nebraska is sent to export.

So the sense of community, the sense of local, the importance of local, the importance of my life, with this sort of globalization, the idea that I have that you can buy in Israel souvenirs that are made in Vietnam. I traveled all the way to Israel to buy authentic souvenirs of the Holy Land, and they're made in Vietnam. I don't mind that, but there's something bizarre about it.

The notion that I can somehow have a place in the world and this is sort of owned by a kind of conglomerate of people who are very distant from my own existence—how do you fix this sense of malaise?

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: There is a kind of a "Versailles-ization" of the American elite. That is, in the old days, when I was a kid, way back when, you could go out, and Pittsburgh had a corporate establishment and there were large companies headquartered in Pittsburgh, and they did philanthropy in Pittsburgh, the people of those families lived in Pittsburgh or whatever.

These days it's a little bit like Louis XIV bringing all the nobles of France into Versailles, where they sort of —you know, you don't have that local person who is connected, local leadership, you don't have a sense of an investment.

LEON BOTSTEIN: Local banks.

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Local banks, exactly.

So this is a real problem. It also means that, again, you have—the American elite is larger in numbers than it used to be, but it is probably less well connected to people who are not in the elite. And then, I think, we had two generations of conscription, which was another factor ensuring that a lot of people mixed socially more than they do now.

So you have a leadership class that doesn't know how to talk to other people. Even when the leadership class is right about a policy or an approach, they don't understand the way other Americans think and talk well enough. This was, I think, Bill Clinton's greatest skill. This made him a unique political figure. He was almost the only Rhodes Scholar who could go to Hope, Arkansas, and just have a casual conversation with people.

LEON BOTSTEIN: Walter, let me ask you. Since you're in this line of work, we could talk forever analytically, with impressions of what has happened, and it wouldn't be wildly optimistic.

I want to encourage you, since we're in this very fine institution that connects ethics and religion and international affairs, and presumably has an optimistic scenario for itself—how do we get out of eight years of Trump, or how do we restore a political process that can project forward a different America, where we actually return to a positive attitude to immigration, to diversity, if you will, to a pluralistic notion, some respect for education and for expertise? I'm worried about what this administration is going to do to science and to the conduct of basic research. How do we turn this around?

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: I think we're going to have to think about rethinking a lot of institutions and how they work in better ways.

One interesting pattern for me, if you look at America, is that we have a number of systems that cost more than the equivalent systems in other countries but don't yield equivalent results. We actually spend a good deal more on education than most other countries. It's not clear that that has brought us the results we would like.


WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: We talk about French labor unions and all of this, but it's about one-tenth as expensive to build a kilometer of subway tunnel in Paris as it is in New York.

LEON BOTSTEIN: Health care.

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Health care is another one; our legal system and our permitting system. We have all of these barnacles on the ship of state, and we need to think a little bit about how do you take it out— there is a word for this, where you clear the hull, clean the hull, and then put it back in the water.

One thing, for example, I think about with health care is that right now we're having the huge fight between Obamacare and Trumpcare. But the reality is it costs so much to deliver health care, and we need so much health care, and we're going to need more as the older population continues to grow, we are not going to be able to pay for the health care that we need and want no matter what the system is, what the label is or the method.

So maybe we should be directing a lot more research into more efficient methods of health care delivery, probably using IT in various ways to—your doctor knows what's on your phone or whatever; you monitor it—who knows?

But I think the idea that medical research involves simply chasing after new pills, which can then be sold at very high prices—actually, I think, we might get better outcomes in other ways.

In education, our school system, which is—let's not forget, when people talk about your experience with the government, for most Americans their most intense interaction with government is their time in the public schools, the most hours. You look at what so many kids know at the end of 12 years of formal education, and you wonder, "What has been going on in all of those hours? How could you possibly only learn this much in six hours a day, 180 days a year for 12 years? What possibly could be happening?"

The school system we have now was basically developed to help an agricultural population adjust to urban and factory life, literally. You learn to move by the bell and the clock, you don't work by the rhythm of the sun, you sit in rows, you follow instructions, and if you don't screw up, you get a small-step promotion at the end of the year. That's very much like life in the civil service. It's very much like life in the standard industrial or corporate bureaucracy of the 20th century.

That is not the way life works now out of school. I certainly see in seniors I work with at Bard a real sense of "I've been educated to live one way and I'm about to go out into a world where it is entirely different." I think we do a better job at Bard than most places do with this. But you have been institutionalized into a system that rewards good behavior in a predictable way and has taught you to operate in a very stable system, which the rest of the economy isn't.

LEON BOTSTEIN: The irony in the American system—I don't totally disagree, but there are some things I do disagree—is the American system is really quite ineffective below the university level.

One of the ironies is that the university level is remarkably good and more innovative and flexible than its competitors in other parts of the world. So actually, anywhere, what happens in college and university is more likely to be connected constructively with the need to negotiate life, as the statistics will bear out in terms of unemployment and underemployment.

But the real problem—I agree with you—is the elementary and secondary system is remarkably ineffective.


LEON BOTSTEIN: That's why community college is a catastrophe, why you have a very low percentage of completion, because it's remedial, which means stuff is being done in community college that could have been done in the high-school and middle-school years.

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: As you were saying, we failed completely with 12 years of having you in a classroom, and now we're going to sit you down for four more years and fail for four more.

LEON BOTSTEIN: But the question is: How do you restore, with modern media and the Internet and social networking, a political conversation and recruit people who are politicians, who run for office? No sane person would run for office.

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: I think you can find younger people who are interested. I think a number of people out of the Iraq War, for example, and in some ways—I'm not saying this for militaristic reasons—but I think the experience of commanding troops or working with troops has really—

I can think of somebody like a kid who used to work for me—I won't give his name here—who was an Army Ranger, who graduated from Yale, and talks about the transformation of his worldview as a result of basically having to deal with a bunch of rowdy 18-year-old kids from working-class backgrounds who don't always do what they should do, but they're his kids; and how this has changed him and given him a different vision of what leadership is. I expect this kid will go in probably as a Democrat. I know some others who would come in as Republicans.

But I think we do need to think more than we have about how do we make our finest young people better leaders, and not just leaders of people more or less like themselves, but leaders of people who are quite different from them and don't take for granted a lot of the things they do. If we do that, I think we will begin to close this gap between the leadership of America—which every country needs, an educated, outward-looking leadership—and the population.

JAMES KETTERER: At this point, I would like to invite questions from the audience. We have a microphone over here and we have another microphone coming down on this side. My role up here will be to play traffic cop for the questions, so I'll remain silent. However, I'm open to taking bribes. [Laughter]

Let's start right here.


QUESTION: James Starkman.

A fascinating discussion, from The Hunger Games on to everything else. It was terrific.

I think we should celebrate the United States Constitution, which, despite all the challenges, including the contemporary ones, rides supreme and is a cause for great optimism for the future. I think it was Winston Churchill who said, "We've tried all other systems, but ours turns out to be better than all the others."

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: I think Churchill also said, "You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing after they have exhausted all the alternatives." That may be where we are now.

LEON BOTSTEIN: I do think—Jim knows this—that sometime this past semester I decided to send all the undergraduates a link to the text of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and offered to buy for them as a gift a copy of the Constitution and the Declaration. The Cato Institute puts out a little one, which is adorable, that can fit in your pocket.

I think that's absolutely right. The two questions I have are: We need to preserve the independent judiciary; and in order for the Constitution to be effective, people have to know what's in it.

A simple thing, for example. I was inspired to take the Constitution around to the undergraduates because in the Bill of Rights the amendments speak of "persons," not of "citizens," which means that the rights accrue not only to the people who have a certificate of citizenship but to persons, which means that people, maybe the undocumented people who are next to us in this very city, are entitled under the Constitution to the same rights that a citizen is, which is something I admire, having come here stateless as a child. But it is very important.

The Constitution is only as good as people are aware of it and understand its power or its potential. As a patriot, my patriotism is not to the flag, but to the Constitution and to the rule of law.

QUESTION: Gentlemen, I'd like to ask you to give some thought to whether or not you would consider that in 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now the world will be made up of a national or international chambers of commerce of these large, monstrous businesses, which doesn't necessarily work to our disadvantage but can work to a world order that is even better than it is now because world corporations want peace. Peace is good for business, not war.

As I envision it, when you look at the young generation today—and I am glad there are so many represented in this room—these men and ladies have to be congratulated for what they've created. The concept of social media and all the spinoffs that are taking place today are all being done by the younger generation. When you compound that into the future, the world leaders are going to be represented by a completely different set of mores.

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: You make some important points, although I wonder whether Andrew Carnegie wouldn't say the same thing was happening a hundred years ago.

There is a sense in which—what was that great book by Norman Angell, The Great Illusion, arguing that because war is fundamentally irrational under modern conditions, because it is so destructive, as soon as the level of education reaches a certain point, we will stop having wars because people are, after all, rational beings. That was published in 1911. It was a terrific bestseller for about three years.

The human being is a complicated animal. G. K. Chesterton once said: "People are not like cows. They don't want just good pasturage and good water. After all, a history of cows in seven volumes would make very dull reading."

I'm afraid it's not that simple, although I think there are forces moving in the direction you are talking about.

LEON BOTSTEIN: I think it's very easy. Generation after generation has turned to the exit to the problem by saying, "Well, the younger generation's going to solve this." If I have to sit through another commencement address where somebody tells a graduating class, "We're passing on this mess to you, you solve it," I'm going to walk out. It's insulting to them and to ourselves.

It's interesting. I think war is not the issue. I do think it's what some of you describe, these massive international corporations to which the average citizen has no relationship, that control our lives completely, where it creates uniformity and anonymity that is crushing spiritually to people. Every mall looks the same; every website looks the same. There is nothing that differentiates the individual, although we are each of us different, have a different genetic structure. We can be caught by our DNA because nobody else is exactly the same as ourselves.

Although the biology tells us that we are both the same and uniquely different, the actual character of our lives is crushingly uniform. To think independently, to live independently, and to make meaning in one's life in this world that is dominated by people who have an algorithm and tell me as I turn on the computer that I should buy this book because I bought three books, and they have now predicted it. And they have tracked me, they have discovered that I go to the same restaurant, and so they are now trying to get me to move one restaurant over, because it must be location, I have ambulatory difficulties, that's why I only go to one restaurant.

This kind of invasion of your life and control of your life—the problems isn't Big Brother anymore, it's not George Orwell, it's not government, but it's precisely this international chamber of commerce. Yes, they don't want war. On the other hand, one could argue that maybe there are some people with vested interests for whom war and destruction are profitable.

We think about the "great German miracle." Every time I hear something about the German miracle after the Second World War, I say: "Hold on for a moment. What was the price of that miracle?" In death. And when you looked at the landscape of Germany in 1945 and saw just rubble, Dresden to Berlin to Hamburg—I don't care whether they deserved it or not in someone's political point of view—that the destruction of the infrastructure of an entire civilization was the engine of an economic recovery, somebody might think of that again.

QUESTION: I'm a Bard student. Thank you both for speaking to us.

I have two questions, one about Turkey, but then also a question about countries that could be in a similar situation.

When I think about the liberal order, sometimes Turkey is a part of it; sometimes it's not. I feel like it's a relatively young democracy. When it's leaning to the West, we always think they have another step to go before they're on par with us; but when they lean to the East, they're kind of doomed to fester there. Especially now, with the way they've staved off what could be an even greater migration crisis for Europe, they don't really seem like they're on par with other European powers or the United States.

So I wonder, when we see turns toward authoritarianism like Erdogan, and then other countries, maybe like Duterte in the Philippines, why does it matter to the liberal order? If it does, does it matter in the same way that something like a Trump phenomenon is, or is it just different flashing lights that look the same and we just think "crisis"?

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: If you're one of the thousands of victims of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, you probably think it's a big deal. If you're one of the what—by the time they do the next list, it'll be 200,000 people unjustly imprisoned in Turkey—they probably also think it's a big deal.

I was in Turkey not long ago and was having a very nice chat with a businessman at lunch who was telling me, "Well, the reason we really had to crack down on the Gülenists was because they had been taken over by Mossad." So, sort of levels of paranoia and craziness.

The trouble is that this is actually how people think. They don't understand cause and effect in the modern world, so they are making fundamental decisions about the future of their country based on radically crazy ideas—and really crazy—about why X leads to Y. Because of that, it's very unlikely that the policies that they adopt are going to lead to anything good, even for their own supporters.

To me, it's not a "how does it rank against the West" or "what report card do I give it," but what is the trajectory of these steps for the people who live in that country? I would say in both of those cases that you mentioned it doesn't look particularly good.

LEON BOTSTEIN: I would add to what Walter said. The Turkey case is a case for a longer historical perspective. You're looking at the end of the Ottoman Empire, Ataturk and the development of a national identity and the formation, everything from the reform of the orthography to the creation of a national identity, and a national identity that also involved real violence against the Armenians. And then you have the problem with the Kurds as well. But okay, so you have a nation.

That nation modernizes, and it modernizes in such a way that it is in a very productive place. Its entry into the European Union—remember there was talk about that a decade ago or more—would have been very rational because Europe is losing population and it takes in new partners.

It also was the ideal of an Islamic democratic state, a state where there was a connection. Erdogan's party originally was looked at as a potential example of what could be called a "moderate connection" between religion and liberal politics.

I am one of the believers that liberal politics doesn't imply secularization, the separation of religion. One of the real tragedies of modern Europe and modern America is the complete collapse of a tradition of liberal Christian theology. I grew up in a generation where giants were Niebuhr, Tillich, Heschel, Karl Barth, people who took the example of Christ and the Sermon on the Mount and translated it into what we would call a liberal, tolerant, inclusive theology and spirituality. That is completely bankrupt. No one pays attention to that at all. Who has dominated religious ideology are the fundamentalists in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, and very radical, reactionary, or conservative fundamentalist constructs.

Turkey was the model of a possibility. The Philippines, the same way. It seemed to be, after the Americans left and after the fight against the Japanese, the possibility of a democratic nation, a complex one.

These personal dictatorships that are involved with violence and autocracy are very significant. It has nothing to do with, as I said, a report card, but it has to do with the idea that a state can modernize in a way that doesn't involve this kind of real suppression of basic rights both of movement and of speech.

QUESTION: Bryn Cohen.

My question is somewhat reminiscent of the question before, the one on Turkey. That is, to what extent do you think that lack of confidence in government has anything to do with the demise of the nation-state or the competition of the nation-state, with the international corporation that may not be in business for peace but for profit, and the citizens are caught in a vise in between?

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Again, I think we underestimate the positive qualities of the nation-state. I think Leon's talk about the importance of religion and spirituality and having people who are sophisticated, liberal, open, thoughtful integrating these ideas, because they're necessary. Religion doesn't just go away because the intelligentsia stops talking about it, and neither does the feeling of nationalism. I think that actually people need these irrational bonds of commonality and destiny.

If you think about it, without some idea of an American identity and linked destinies, our democratic system, where there are 330 million people here or something like that—if this were a perfect democracy, we each have 1/330 millionth say in how the country was run, which is essentially no say. Or, if you think about a world democracy in which the 8 billion people on Earth each had one vote, to each individual on Earth that democratic world government would be an unaccountable tyranny that was formed in ways that didn't make any sense to us.

It's these cultural connections, so I feel that people like me are making decisions and they're bringing the ideas and values that I have to the decisions that they make. This is actually very important.

It is one reason a country like France can do things that the European Union can't do. It has a stronger hold on its citizens.

That, I think, is a valuable thing. Yes it can go wrong, like religion can go wrong, like everything can go wrong.

LEON BOTSTEIN: Walter is talking about allegiance, and I think he's totally right about this. I would love to discuss more with you the idea that I don't understand where the allegiance to a corporation can be. I do understand the allegiance to a community which we call the nation-state.

Take the United States, for example. If the same percentage of the electorate had turned out in November that turned out for the election of Macron against Le Pen, Donald Trump would not be president of the United States. So we are facing passivity and non-engagement.

Clearly, the voting rights laws have been eviscerated. And we make voting unbelievably impossible. We don't do it on a Sunday; we don't do it on a holiday; we don't use electronics. We do everything in our power to prevent people from voting easily.

But let's assume we solved that issue and we had 75 percent of the electorate or 80 percent of the electorate showing up. Donald Trump would not be president of the United States.

And the issues of race, the idea that he represents in his core constituency a kind of nostalgic notion of anti-color, anti-different—there was a great—I have to hand it to Enrique Krauze, the Mexican historian, who in an editorial in The New York Times wrote, "Trump wants to build a wall against Mexico and demonize Mexicans. Why don't we take America to the World Court for the Mexican War, which under current ethics was a completely rapacious, unjustified land grab, and return to Mexico its proper borders, which would be half of Southern California, all the states in the Southwest, and Texas? It would be a great thing, and the United States of Mexico would have the property to which it was legitimately entitled had the Americans not bluntly stripped them of it by a totally unjustified and revolting war."

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: The Trump campaign would probably reprint that op-ed and send it to everybody and say, "See, this is what the Mexicans want to do." [Laughter]

LEON BOTSTEIN: That's right. But he was making an ironic—before there was too much demonization of the Mexicans.

But I think that the allegiance is really where we can—people do want to feel members of a community and have a voice in that community. I don't see the corporate, the financial, structures working.

But I do think one of the things that can happen is devolution. In other words, instead of having larger and larger units, Scotland will go independent, Wales will go independent.

Actually the United States will break up. There will be a kind of North/New England/Middle Atlantic nation; there will be a Northwest/Northern California nation; there will be a new state of Mexico, the Southwest; the South can reinvent a kind of Confederacy.

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: South Carolina is ready for that.

LEON BOTSTEIN: And the Northern Midwest will gravitate to Canada. So people will have local entities.

But people do want to feel that they are connected in some way to control their lives, because we have to live communally.

I think tax is a good example. I don't understand why people are reluctant to pay taxes. I'm proud to be able to pay taxes. I think I pay too few taxes. Now, if I paid more taxes, I should be more attentive to how they're spent. That gives me the right. That's the fundamental notion of the American democracy. The idea of people avoiding taxes, that we elected a president who is proud of the fact that somehow he ducked paying taxes, that's a little odd.

I'll never forget. One of my first encounters as a college president trying to raise money was with Nicholas Katzenbach, who had been attorney general under Johnson and was the man who was the arm of the government that desegregated the University of Mississippi. He was vice president of IBM.

I went to see him for a gift because he had a child at Bard. I went on with the usual argument that it was a tax deduction.

He looked at me and said, "I don't take any deductions of any kind. If I give you a gift, I'm not going to deduct it on my taxes."

I said, "Why not?"

He said, "I was a public servant, and as a public servant it is my obligation to set a standard for the behavior of my fellow citizens. I don't think it is right for me as a public servant to take advantage of the Tax Code, especially since I am privileged."

Now that's a real American. [Laughter]

JAMES KETTERER: With that, I'm sorry for those who are waiting to ask questions, but we have run out of time. However, we do have an opportunity at our reception that immediately follows to continue the conversation.

I would like to thank the Carnegie Council for hosting this. I thank the BGIA community for coming, and our students, and especially thank Professor Mead and President Botstein.

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