Competing Priorities and Generational Dynamics at the Doorstep

Oct 24, 2023 86 min listen

Does a "national interest" articulated largely from a Washington, DC perspective connect with the "doorstep" interests and concerns of citizens across a large and diverse country? As we come to the end of several important cycles in world affairs—the close of the post-Cold War era and the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution—how might a new generation of Americans redefine the goals and purpose of U.S. global engagement?

This special Doorstep episode was recorded live at The Ohio State University on Global Ethics Day.

Competing Priorities & Generational Dynamics Spotify podcast link Competing Priorities and Generations Doorstep Apple podcast link

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Welcome, everyone, to this special edition of The Doorstep podcast, taking place at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies at The Ohio State University (OSU). I am your co-host, senior fellow at Carnegie Council Nick Gvosdev.

TATIANA SERAFIN: And I am Tatiana Serafin, also a senior fellow here at Carnegie Council, excited to continue our series, going out and taking The Doorstep into the field, literally at the doorstep, around the country. This time we are in Columbus, Ohio, with a great group of people on Global Ethics Day, and I think this makes this particular trip, Nick, super-special because we did focus on so many ethical issues in a time when we are facing so many challenges in the world.

We were hosted by the fantastic Christopher Nichols, who has been on our podcast several times for his books and work on ideology in foreign affairs. We also visited with his class on religion and foreign policy, which was super-interesting. A great group of students at OSU; a shout-out to them, their questions, and their work with us on this special Doorstep podcast.

Chris put together an excellent panel of speakers we will hear from in a moment: Morgan Liu, chair of Near Eastern and South Asian languages and cultures and associate Professor in anthropology, who brought to us his unique perspective on anthropology and ethics. I cannot wait for you guys to hear him. Professor Dakota Rudesill, associate professor of Moritz College of Law, who gave us a particular ethical angle from the legal perspective; and also Professor Dana Howard, assistant professor in the Division of Bioethics, who brought us her unique perspective and ethical lens from the bioethical perspective, bringing in her work and her recent trip to Africa and the work that The Ohio State University is doing there, which brought together their and Chris’s unique ethical frameworks because there is not just one way to look at ethics and there is no either/or. On this Global Ethics Day celebration we really need to think about ethics holistically.

CHRISTOPHER NICHOLS: For those streaming from around the world and around the United States, welcome to Columbus, Ohio, and welcome to The Ohio State University. Welcome most importantly to Global Ethics Day, which is an opportunity for us to reflect on thinking about how an ethical commitment to the world could help us reshape what is going on in this tumultuous and chaotic global environment that we live in and maybe make clear some of the ways in which we can act locally, nationally, and internationally to make our world better.

This is a collaboration of Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and the Mershon Center for International Security Studies. I am Chris Nichols. I am the Woody Hayes Chair in National Security Studies and professor of history at Ohio State.

As we think about global ethics in geopolitical terms, where we have been—and I want to do a special shout-out to my history students who are here in our Religion and U.S. Foreign Relations class, where we started our conversation early; it is great to have you all here—where we are, and how to chart a better path forward, especially give the heightened tensions we are seeing in the world, the atrocities, and heartbreaking events—I am thinking of Gaza, I am thinking of Israel, and thinking of Ukraine—it is important to also note how sensitive these issues are.

As we are here having this conversation, it is worth foregrounding the fact that this is affecting a lot of us in different ways. As we have this conversation let’s keep that in mind, whether you are online or here in person. We are here to have a robust conversation in an academic space, so everything is on the table in that sense, and to take seriously among other elements the relationship between people and place.

This is something that I have been doing since I was teaching at Oregon State in the Pacific Northwest. I think it is useful on Global Ethics Day and thinking about people and place to think about where we are here, in this place, and that means acknowledging that The Ohio State University occupies the ancestral and contemporary territory of the Shawnee, the Potawatomi, the Delaware, the Miami, the Peoria, the Seneca, the Wyandotte, and the Ojibwe, among many other Indigenous peoples. Specifically the university resides on land ceded in 1795 in the Treaty of Greenville and the forced removal of tribes through the Indian Removal Act of 1830. As a land grant institution it is critical for us I think to honor what that history means, to honor the resiliency of those tribal nations and groups, and recognize the historical context that has affected and continues to affect Indigenous people in the United States and all of us in many ways visible and invisible. There will be more to talk about that moving forward, and we can reflect a bit more on this as we go.

Shifting gears, as an event of the Mershon Center it is worth noting that the Mershon Center’s mission is to construct holistic accounts of international security challenges so that they may be effectively addressed by inviting multiple perspectives into conversation as we are doing here today. This is an interesting group of thinkers here with different disciplines coming to bear and different people in our audience from many generations. The Mershon Center is dedicated to the effort to gain visibility into the human and social dimensions of security problems at all levels. In so doing, we also aim to cultivate the skill set for designing and implementing solutions—and that is something Global Ethics Day hopefully is about—in our teaching, our research, our public events, and our conversations.

Thanks to lots of folks—this is the point where I do a few acknowledgements. Thanks to Dorothy Noyes, our fearless leader at the Mershon Center. Thanks to the spectacular folks who have helped make this possible and who stuck around all day, Dani Wollerman, Kyle McCray, Andy Mackey, always there in the back manning the video and audio and making sure everything works. Thanks to Cameron Givens, who is the Hayes Chair graduate research assistant, who helped make this work.

Special thanks the whole Carnegie Council team. It is great to be collaborating with Carnegie Council for this event, the fantastic students here and the podcast hosts, who I will introduce in a moment.

Let me move it forward and simply say I am looking forward to this lively panel. I will quickly introduce everybody and then I will stop doing this part of the event.

First and foremost, Carnegie Council senior fellows and co-hosts, who will be to my right when I am seated there, are Tatiana Serafin, who is also a professor at Marymount Manhattan College, and Nikolas Gvosdev, also a professor at the U.S. Naval War College. Joining them here with me will be three exceptional OSU faculty members, who I am excited to hear from on the panel part of this, and then we want to hear from you all on the conversation part of this: Morgan Liu to my right, chair of Near Eastern and South Asian languages and cultures and associate professor in anthropology. He will bringing an anthropological lens to our conversations in thinking about global ethics and some of the challenges we confront today. He has been doing some work on generations in ethical issues in world affairs.

To his right is Dakota Rudesill, associate professor in the Moritz College of Law. He will be bringing a legal perspective to our thinking here, in particular with a focus on national security law and policy, but also having done some recent writing and work on the laws of war and nuclear conflict related to Ukraine in particular and the ethical commitments of those involved across areas of international affairs, which I will be interested to hear a bit about.

Last but not least of my great OSU colleagues is Dana Howard, assistant professor in the Department Biomedical Education and Anatomy with specialties in bioethics and philosophy. I am intrigued to hear the bioethical and philosophical components here. I think they are going to be critical to our thinking through a whole lot of these issues. We started with students today thinking about: What is ethics? What does it mean for the United States to justify its actions on the world stage through an ethical lens, and what about the competing ethical priorities there?

Please help me in welcoming this great group, and we will get it going right now.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Thank you very much on behalf of the Carnegie Council team, specifically The Doorstep podcast team. We feel welcome to be here at The Ohio State University with the sponsorship of the Mershon Center and to carry this conversation with you about global ethics and the ethics of U.S. engagement in the world on Global Ethics Day.

The term “ethics” comes from ancient Greek, ethikos, that which relates to an individual’s character, the idea that we make our decisions or we should be conscious about the choices that we make and about the duties and obligations that we owe other people and what is owed to us in return, and from the individual level we exist in communities, states, and societies, and the extent to which we want our communities, states, and societies to also make ethical choices.

Sometimes when we use this term, though, it makes it seem as if there is the ethical choice and then there is the non-ethical choice and that it is simply a matter of choosing to be ethical and that ends the problem. In fact it is not a question of an ethical versus a nonethical choice, although that is always a possibility, but it is a question of which ethical choice, of which duties or obligations are owed.

Just as a few example to set the stage for our conversation today: During the pandemic, when it was impossible to have in-person schooling and children were sent home—we have a digital divide in this country. Some people can afford technology, some cannot. Was it ethical for school districts to source inexpensive laptops and cameras from countries that do not have very strict or stringent environmental or labor standards, and in particular, if forced labor is being used to produce those products, do you buy those laptops and distribute them to lower-income families, or do you tell lower-income families that the ethical obligation not to source laptop purchases from countries with poor environmental and labor standards trumps the obligation we have to educate your children?

This was not a problem that was in Washington. The other thing that we often talk about is that people go, “This is something they handle in Washington.” School districts across this country had to wrestle with this international issue of whether they would choose to buy, and if they were buying already, would they distribute, would they return, and that was something they faced.

The United States and other countries are faced with the question of development and raising the standard of living. The question then is that the standard of living that many of us enjoy and that much of the rest of the world would like to enjoy is a high-energy standard of living and is a high-consumption standard of living. Do we say: “Well, we have ethical obligations to future generations not to continue the environmental and climatic degradation of the planet, so for 3 to 4 billion people we are going to hold you at a subsistence level of existence in order to slow down climate or environmental change,” or do you ration or share the benefits?

Again, particularly when you are dealing with democracies, where politicians rely on mandates from voters, voters often tend to think about ethical obligations that are immediately owed to them and those around them and not to a more abstract sense of humanity. Can you imagine any of the candidates you are thinking about voting for in upcoming elections, if someone said, “You will have to accept five-hour-a-day power blackouts, tripling of your food prices, and gasoline rationing as a way forward to spread the benefits of development,” would those candidates be elected? Probably not; possibly.

Again, these are doorstep issues about food, energy, and water—who has it, who does not have it, and who is owed it. How are you going to structure the sharing of it?

Finally there is the question of ethics and intervention. The United States is aiding Ukraine, the United States is aiding Israel in a military sense, and there are calls for the United States to do more to aid Palestinians in Gaza. We have other areas of the world where we have had humanitarian crises. We have had over the last two weeks—almost with no coverage—one of the largest examples of whatever term you want to use, whether it is “ethnic cleansing” or “voluntary departure,” of an entire region in the Caucasus of Nagorno-Karabakh, what is owed to people there.

But then the question for policymakers, ethicists, and people like us who are academics and advisors is, is it more ethical to advise an intervention if you do not think that intervention is going to succeed and its consequences could be greater, or do you say, “You should try to intervene and let the consequences fall what may?”

Politicians and policymakers have to weigh what we call the “ethics of intention”—my intentions are good—versus the “ethics of results”—do I think that what I am going to do is likely to make the situation better and not make it worse, even if that means short-term suffering for people that could otherwise be alleviated?

This is something we have wrestled with ever since the 2011 Libyan intervention, which was an intervention which was supposed to uplift human rights, it was supposed to protect people, and in fact by all standards Libyans today in 2023 are living worse than they were prior to the intervention in 2011. Should we have not done it and let Colonel Qaddafi perhaps kill large numbers of people because the intervention ultimately did not succeed, or do you intervene without knowing whether or not your actions will produce a benefit?

Again, these are not simply abstract questions for academic seminars. These are questions which policymakers and ultimately citizens have to wrestle with because these are the choices of which we are asked to do—pay higher taxes, pay higher costs, or potentially be asked to serve in places where you may be placed in harm’s way—and there has to be a sense of, “Well, why does it matter, what is the duty that is owed, and how does this play out for the future?”

As we are now on the cusp of major changes in the international system, not simply that the geopolitical changes of the conflicts that we are seeing from last year and this year are manifesting as we are going through this, but technological changes, demographic changes, climatic and environmental changes, changes where we are on the cusp of being able to manipulate the biological and chemical building blocks of the universe in a way to potentially produce lifesaving treatments but also with grave ethical questions about what we might be doing for the future—artificial intelligence (AI) falls under this as well—discussing ethics and discussing the frameworks that we think ought to guide our actions has always been important, but I think at this particular moment in human history it is quite critical.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Having laid that groundwork, I am going to throw the question to our panelists. If we are thinking about ethics on this Global Ethics Day, regarding ethics, what is your “Roman Empire?”

DANA HOWARD: I will start. I am trying to think about how to answer that question. I guess one thing I will say, trying to bring a bioethical lens into thinking about this, bioethics as a field is relatively new and it is seen both as a limitation and also part of the feature of the field is that it is very reactive to the horrors and crises that have happened in the past, so when you think about research ethics and when you also think about bioethics in the clinical setting there is this real understanding of the stakes of these decisions that people are making, the fact that in the past we have gotten it wrong, and the fact that even people in the room are going to have very different values, and yet we have to move forward.

Who is the Roman Empire? It is our past selves. Basically when it comes to bioethics a lot of what people think about is not coming up with the one ethical thing to do but thinking about practical governance structures and providing the support and the conceptual apparatus for people to make decisions where there is going to be deep disagreement. That is a feature of the situation; consensus is not what is expected but rather agreement that this is an appropriate way to move forward.

DAKOTA RUDESILL: What a great topic for us to be engaging with here overall and how timely. A big thanks to everyone who has helped organize this and participated. Thank you and congratulations to all of you for deciding to engage with this.

I love the question of the Roman Empire. I love the meme. My wife got me into TikTok, and it has been actually relevant to a lot of stuff that I work on.

For me, what is my Roman Empire? My Roman Empire is the Roman Empire. I am a law professor and a national security practitioner, but I also have taught and written about the Roman Empire, and it relates very immediately to what we are talking about here today, ethics in the sense of constitutional ethos, the ethos of the rule of law.

What is the ethical overlay there? It is, when one is an actor within a polity, a republic, a democracy, you have your own interests and you have the interests of people who think like you and your constituency, maybe in what Madison would call a “faction.” You have your “we” within a polity. It is a smaller we than the entire polity, and in a democracy or a republic you have opportunities and you have rights to advance your own interests, to state your views, to speak your conscience, and to use the levers of the process to realize your preferences. How do you in terms of interests balance that immediate interest of your “sub-polity we,” how do you balance that we interest ethically with the interests of others who you are competing with to realize your policy preferences?

It is an immediate issue, and it relates to the Roman Empire in the sense of—I think one lens for understanding how the Roman Republic came apart is that at some point you had a critical mass of people or people who were powerful enough individually or together who decided to put their own interests in the preference that they wanted over structures and constitutional ethoses of the system, namely in the case of the crackup of the Roman Republic and its transformation into an empire, that you would not have authoritarian rule. They traded that off. They traded off having a republic for authoritarian rule, and it made a major change.

Obviously that is very relevant to us today in the context of what is often called “democratic retrenchment,” a decline in the fairness, representativeness, and responsiveness of republican structures in many countries around the world. Some of them have gone completely into non-democratic systems. Some of them are quasi-democracies or managed democracies or liberal democracies.

The other thing I think about here in terms of law, ethics, and my Roman Empire with this is what you might say is the old republic versus the present republic and your future. What do I mean by that? In terms of historical ethos.

A very big conversation in the law right now is how much should our ethical valuing of the preferences of the founders of our republic matter in the context of our preferences today and the opportunity for people in the future to have their preferences realized? There is a very strong originalist movement in this country in recent decades—there has always been originalism in American law and political thought—the idea that we should understand the Constitution informed by the understanding of the Constitution by the people who wrote it. That has been an especially powerful and consequential conversation in recent decades. We now have a Supreme Court that has in a very, very powerful way that we have not seen elevated the understandings of the founders who wrote the document over the preferences of people who have existed in recent years and even today so that we are bound by this. One scholar, Philip Bobbitt, calls this “constitutional fate.” You are just locked in.

Also hanging in the balance is the interest of future people. I think an ethical question for us as we think about self-government is balancing again our ethical value for the values that were animating the founding of the country and its structures with the preferences of people today and the preferences of people in the future, and that links back to the democracy stuff in the sense of how much should the preferences of people who founded the country about how republics work control what we do today in how we structure our country?

MORGAN LIU: I would like to begin by pondering what ethics means from the viewpoint of anthropology. I will get to the Roman Empire somehow.

To take seriously whenever someone makes a claim, when they say, “We must do this because it is fair, because it is just, and because it is right,” and to realize those judgments are often intertwined with other kinds of sensibilities. Often what we judge to be right is interwoven with what we think is efficient, elegant, or even beautiful, so there is an aesthetic to ethics. I think as human beings you can say we conflate them, but they are all intertwined.

Taking a view of different ethical claims out there in the world, my stance is not whether that stance is right or whether I agree with it. My first questions are: “Okay, what is the world that this is coming from? How are they looking at the world such that these things they claim are right, just, or beautiful? How does that work in their world?”

Then, of course, we have competing claims about that. Even within a person they can be struggling, just as Nick was saying. There is really no such thing as a non-ethical option; there are just different competing senses of ethics that are in tension, and we are trying to resolve them. I think part of our duty as scholars is to see how people and how groups are trying to work out, to wrestle with these tensions.

Even for things that we consider—there is a great consensus that something—is morally reprehensible I think there always might be a different angle. This is not to be an apologist for some great atrocities that we are seeing in the world, but just to take a bit of nuance before we plunge into taking sides, and that is, for example, the issue of corruption, which is something I think about a lot. For any of us who have spent time anywhere in the world, including the United States, we face behaviors and trends that at least some would call “corrupt.”

For me corruption is a complicated issue in the sense that when someone seems to be operating corruptly—they are betraying some public trust, they are using, for example, public office for private gain—there is an ethics involved there as well. Again, this is not to be an apologist but simply to work out the internal logic of some of these people who are engaging in so-called corruption.

Let’s say a traffic cop is taking bribes. You violated some traffic law, and the traffic cop will let you go if you give him—let’s say it’s a him—a payoff, but if he never does that he can never feed his family. By the way, his niece is getting married next month and his brother’s family is expecting a great contribution from his family, which he does not have if he does not take bribes.

You step back and notice there is a whole system in the way, say, the police, the judiciary, so forth, works, where so-called corrupt practices are actually part of what makes it function.

Now we can step back and say, “Well, we would prefer if it would all function differently,” and a think a lot of people might agree. How we get there is a different question. All I am trying to raise is what we might call corruption—a betrayal of trust into, say, one’s public office—could be an affirmation of trust to one’s own family, one’s networks, one’s friends, and so forth. Teasing these things out is rather difficult, and there are no easy solutions.

I personally find corruption is a very fascinating question for ethics in the sense that it is a problem where everyone “condemns” it, everyone says they hate it, but everyone also participates in its perpetuation. To me that is a bit of a paradox that I like to think about.

What does empire mean in this kind of context. I am a little less literal, even though I have studied Latin and learned all about the Roman Empire. For me what empire means today is formations of power. They could be nation-states, they could be collectivities of interstate organizations, or nongovernmental organizations or even informal networks of people. These are formations of power that could exert what we can call “quasi-imperial effects,” meaning they set the terms of people’s thinking in terms of debate and how things are done. To me these are effects of empire, so for me ethical questions are always woven into certain consensuses or pressures that we need to go in certain ways because certain centers of power are pushing us toward that way. To me those are “imperial effects.”

TATIANA SERAFIN: Professor Nichols, you cannot get away from that question.

CHRISTOPHER NICHOLS: A historian has to answer what is his Roman Empire, and it cannot be the Roman Empire, especially as a U.S. historian.

I go with the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, 1880 to 1920, and I will say that it recurs to me consistently because that is an era of industrialization and modernization, an era when U.S. foreign policy debates for the first time permeated throughout the nation’s politics from citizens all the way up to policymakers because the United States had significant commercial and military power in the world. So the nature of those debates was fundamentally different a generation or two or three before, and the generations raised in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era were the generations who then were moving forward into World War I, World War II, and the “American Century” as we understand it.

The reshaping of the worldviews of Americans in this era was part and parcel of a fundamental question that animates all my work. I think, in the meme sense coming back regularly, which is: What is the meaning of America when instantiated in foreign policy? What does it mean for the singular American foreign policy, which the state adopts, when there is a diverse set of competing interests within the society that do not agree on what the nation should do.

We live with that right now. Everybody’s comments suggest that, starting with Nick’s perforatory comments all the way through, and the shift there was that then the United States had enough power, and that is when you first start to see explicit humanitarian and ethical arguments in American foreign policy—to go abroad and to save other people. Some are amazing, transcendent, and worth applauding, and some are as bad as they get at the nadir of human nature, of racist arguments for ruling other peoples through capitalism and through concentrations of power and ignoring the agency of individuals and groups. That is very much what is with us today.

When I hear echoes of “What should the United States do in the world?” as a kind of singular, I think to the plural: What are the debates there? I go back to the 1880–1920 period, when the United States shifted from a mostly rural country to a mostly urban country—that is what the census says from 1880 to 1920—and took on an enormously new group of human beings.

If you think about the change to demography, that then changes virtually everything about American society in the ways in which we live with it today. This is the era of that mass migration into the United States, altering how we think about pluralism, who and what counts as American, who should get the vote, and it coincides with some of the worst things domestically—we are also thinking about the doorstep—Jim Crow, labor activism, and labor getting the boot literally on their throats. We live in another moment of labor activism around the world and in the United States, which is an interesting thing to think about in the geopolitical context of ethics. I could go on with the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, but we will leave it at that.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Thank you, everyone. That is a lot to take in and a lot for all of you to process. Think about your questions, though, because we will turn it over to you in a little bit.

All of you touched on diversity and change, and I am going to take your term, “formations of power.” I want to take it on this Global Ethics Day 2023: Where and what is our power today, and how do we frame our ethical response to that power today?

You talked about the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era as a moment of change, and I think that we at The Doorstep talk about right now, 2023, as a huge moment of change. If you just look at the news, you have competing pictures, for example—you can start here or move wherever you want—of President Biden hugging Netanyahu, and right next to it is Xi and Putin shaking hands.

Where are we today in those formations of power? We talked before our session here in a closed session about the United States, its obligations, and how the United States has interacted with the world, but where are we in 2023 in that power? Is the United States still what it once was in how we think about it, or do we need a complete paradigm shift in thinking about the United States and the world?

DANA HOWARD: One thing I have been thinking about a lot from a research ethics perspective—a lot of my work is related to the ways in which the regulatory structures that have been set up have been basically set up by the funders, by higher-income countries, and a lot of the research that has been conducted historically, especially the historical travesties of research and exploitation, happens in lower- and middle-income countries often for amazing scientific advance. Tuskegee is not an example of that, but there are a lot of interesting cases of really amazing science that was exploiting the bodies of people and communities in lower- and middle-income countries, and people did not get access afterwards. Those communities were shut out, so this worry about “helicopter research,” priority setting.

One thing I think is interesting right now is this move to actually see power in research, so build a lot of infrastructure both in the United States in terms of having community advisory boards that are not merely advisors and do not only have this consultation role but actually have power to make decisions about how to use National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding and federal funding but also to build infrastructure in Native American and Indigenous tribal authorities in greater United States territories and also in low- and middle-income countries.

For example, last week I was actually in Kenya, where OSU and the University of Nairobi have a five-year program to basically build a master’s program in One Health research and emergency research ethics, and the idea there is basically to build expertise. There already is expertise in Kenya about how to think about some of the real important and distinctive ethical issues that come.

If the regulatory structure, people at the NIH, are not going to be able figure all of those nuances out, and we actually need people on the ground to be making not only advisory decisions but have the power to allow research or stop research and negotiate the terms of how research is conducted on the ground. Moving forward one of the things to think about is the ways in which we can cede power and democratize that sort of decision, especially when it comes to priority setting.

DAKOTA RUDESILL: Just a quick thought on that, building on the question and on your comments as well and coming back to the frame too of our conversation about ethics involving a number of different priorities and a number of different interests, balancing those, and balancing our values in those things.

As we think about the image of President Biden embracing the prime minister of Israel and the presidents of authoritarian states, Russia and China, embracing one another in the context of what is going on Israel, what is going on in Ukraine, what could go on in the Taiwan Strait, as we think about American policy in the world and the directions that it is going in, to be analytical about it, do we find that our policies are being shaped by some sort of larger ethical sense about what the country means in the world and why it is important, for example, for a Ukraine or an Israel to be defended on the basis of the fact that they are republics and that they have the rule of law—imperfectly, but they have aspirations in that direction—being defended against barbarism? Look at the way that Russia has waged its war against Ukraine. There is a complete absence of an ethical sense about how war is waged. It is utterly absent. Look at the nature of the Hamas attack into Israel. That is one frame for it.

Maybe another frame for it is: “Well, that is window dressing. What our real ethos is, is geopolitics. We have a national interest in Russia not coming to dominate Ukraine, an adversary of the country,” or “We have a geopolitical interest in an Israel that is strong and well-defended,” or “Maybe we just have a U.S. political calculus that aligns American policy.”

For right now with Ukraine—although there is a very strong element in American politics, especially in one party heading against that—American policy aligns with protecting Israel. Again, as we think about ethics, what sorts of interests? How do we define those ethoses?

When you study foreign policy and history it is not this classic, simple question about, well, are you a realist or are you an idealist? The way we are framing this, which is think is a higher-quality framing, is, what sort of interests are informing your ethical thinking? What are you going to prioritize, both analytically and normatively?

MORGAN LIU: I agree with that. Tatiana, your question was, where is power today and how do we think ethically about that? Looking at even today’s headlines it is easy to locate power in nation-states. The United States and Israel on one hand is one axis with the European powers, and then the counter-axis is Russia, China, Iran, and possibly the Arab states and so forth.

It is easy to think about power like billiard balls. Each ball is a nation-state and they collide or attract, and then you see the usually big men who are in charge. They make decisions and they have personal friendships or not, so to think about power as located in these spheres—if you follow a lot of the news, you think in those terms—I think a lot of scholars would like to say, “Okay, that is important of course,” but when you zoom in and look at the other players within each nation-state there is a complexity there.

If we literally unpack each billiard ball and see that every country is actually made up of bundles of relationships with people and interests that are often at odds, then maybe we have a different view of power and therefore you can direct your ethical questions differently, so the question is not only, say, what is the ethical thing for the United States to do with regard to Israel, what should Biden be doing right now on his visit, but rather, what are the different streams of ethical thinking among different parts of American society, those who are maybe not in the Beltway, within Washington, DC, that orbit of power? Then there are other networks of power in the United States such as citizens groups. Think about the differences of how they think ethically about these issues by religion, ethnicity, and generation.

I think you could ask more fine-grained questions. This is not a general algorithm of how to solve ethical problems, but it is at least to say that maybe the first step to do is step away from seeing each country as being a unitary set of interests but unpacking it and seeing that there are many streams that maybe we should take seriously when we look under the hood.

CHRISTOPHER NICHOLS: That is a great answer, Morgan. Just to synthesize a little bit across these three, the emphasis here is on the multidirectional nature of power today. One of the formulations I like from historian George Herring is that we live in a world of forces of fragmentation and forces of integration. We are seeing since the 1990s and especially since 9/11 the competition between those efforts, themes, and ways of awareness and orientation of thinking about who should be empowered on the ground now that we have a better sense of both that you can do amazing science and also that it ignores individual peoples and groups and thinking all the way up through who counts within a society and what are the multifaceted ways in which they are making connections. I would add transnational actors and international organizations. We live in an era of flourishing peoples and groups advocating within their nation-states and to international bodies for all sorts of different causes.

I think one of the challenges, just to think about where is power and how is it diffused throughout the system if you are looking at organizations that go back pretty far like the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, which I have worked on, they are very often Western, they are Global North, they comes from universal values which they extrapolate from, which often sound good but when practiced on the ground actually turn out to be pretty bad for those individuals, particularly as power flows downhill. Where are those organizations lobbying and what are they lobbying for?

In this moment, there is sort of cause for despair. Where is power? Power is so diffused in our technological world that you cannot combat propaganda and misinformation. The first news even that The New York Times ran with just in the last 24 hours seems like it was false related to this attack on a hospital in Gaza. We simply do not know the facts in real time. It takes a while, and because of our media moment the power of interpretation is highly individualized and the ability of propaganda and misinformation to sway us individually then can be weaponized.

So individuals, swayed by disinformation, can take on outsized power in the international system, advocating for things that their facts are wrong about. They may be right in some ethical sense with their own worldview, but they may be lining up the wrong evidence to make that claim. I think that is one of the central challenges of our moment if we are thinking about what are the ethical questions today and how are power formulations at stake or contributing or not to them.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Hopefully this is sparking questions that you are going to be asking, but I want to tie some of the themes together and go back and keep pressing on some points that Tatiana raised earlier.

First, to use her Roman example, one of the things I think we overlook when we think of Rome is we forget a figure like the Emperor Constantine, who conceptualizes the later Roman Empire, hypocritically in many ways, as a force for good: “I was spared in this battle, I should have died, I should have been defeated, and I am here, so I must have a greater purpose, and I have to use the power of the empire to make changes.”

I am connecting that because yesterday on the way here I read Marc Andreessen’s “Techno-Optimist Manifesto” that he posted. Essentially that says—when it comes to mainly AI, but I think it has applications in bioethics and many other areas—that the mediating institutions are muddled, politics cannot produce good results, and essentially you have to trust a smaller group of individuals to use their individual ethical sense to make these choices for the rest of us.

Chris, when you are talking about the fragmentation of power—and as Morgan said, we are not just talking about nation-states and looking at that but getting down to super-empowered individuals—how does that play out in so many of these fields also where governments do not have expertise? We see that governments really are behind the eight ball in so many areas—bioethics, genetic engineering, synthetic biology, and artificial intelligence. What is the chance that when we are talking about ethics it is going to be an individual with enough power, who says: “I will set the ethical frame. I will make this decision for you.” Do people trust more an Andreessen or an Elon Musk to make these choices rather than what appears to be a pretty dysfunctional House of Representatives in the United States, and are we going to face that as an ethical choice in the future?

TATIANA SERAFIN: If you have not read it, Ronan Farrow’s piece on Elon Musk is super-scary.

What do you all think of these powerful billionaires taking on roles where government is failing, and do you see them as ethical leaders?

CHRISTOPHER NICHOLS: One reason that I went back to the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era is that you think of an era of unregulated capitalism and you think of the accrual of an enormous amount of capital in the hands of very few. Inequality today in the United States is on par with inequality in the 1920s, which is a product of that era.

Journalists in that era, famously the war of 1898 was called the “war generated by the press,” and that the Hearst and Pulitzer presses were huge parts of sensationalizing that conflict. Whether or not that is an accurate account does not matter in the way we think about it. The press and information can generate conflict or it can be part of tamping down conflicts. I would say we have been there before. This is not so new. This is always the historian’s answer; this is not unprecedented.

But it does not mean don’t worry. The set of reforms in the Progressive Era is a product of an era in which there was so much excess, including and perhaps worse, all the ways in which it was weaponized against minority populations in the United States, so you have the rise of Jim Crow, women still could not vote, and even when women get the vote—it is a very imperfect set of power balances in the United States.

One model there would be that in domestic politics the United States has given up on regulating capitalism in a lot of ways, and people like Elon Musk are the product of not just unregulated capitalism but also gifts of the state to subsidize their efforts, and they do not recognize that. The fact that the U.S. government, states, and localities have funded and subsidized building headquarters and all that kind of thing suggests to me that as a policymaker there is every reason you should argue that he absolutely cannot shut down Starlink for his own reasons, that he is beholden to the U.S. government, which has funded much of his work, and there could be ways you could work that out. Reasonable people could disagree about how these tech billionaires at least should be regulated, but one starting point would be that they cannot take on foreign policy powers themselves in any way, shape, or form, then you can negotiate what that should look like.

In domestic society, a very similar thing. Why is so much power aggregated to corporations as well, if we are thinking about where power formulations are today? There is almost no independent media because they are all conglomerations. Same thing with booksellers. We can go through every sector of the American economy and think about the ways in which they have congealed into this mass of entities that are also often commingled. Go back to the Gilded Age and Progressive Era and think about antitrust laws. There are a lot of ways we could think about regulation that could be meaningful.

In the international sector the United States absolutely—this is also a Gilded Age model—should be thinking about peer-country models that work. This is a U.S.-centric thing, but social welfare in the United States is modeled on German systems that they felt worked in that era, and Americans were unabashed at adopting those things and trying them out in the United States. It is now absolutely pilloried in the United States to try out the French model of something. To some extent that is a bipartisan thing, although it is mostly coming from the Right.

That is absurd. If it works abroad, like gun regulation, it should be attempted in the United States. It seems reasonable. Part of what is not allowing that is again this conglomeration of power in lobbies, interest groups, corporations, and other kinds of groups.

How you fight back against that is basically one of our themes for today. It is generational, but in that era it did not happen in one generation. It took more than one generation to make significant progress. It is on the students here and probably the next generation after the students here to push that ball forward.

DAKOTA RUDESILL: I would also recommend the Ronan Farrow piece on Elon Musk, which is amazing reading and as always with Farrow terrific reporting, but as Chris alludes to, one of the pieces of that story is the control that Elon Musk—one person; of course he heads the company which created Starlink—has over this global Internet in the sky capability, which has been a massive enabler for the Ukrainians in defending themselves against the Russian invasion, and Musk made Starlink available to Ukraine as they resisted, but also there are many problematic accounts of him throttling that and pulling that back based on his own judgment of how far Ukrainian forces should advance in retaking their own territory from Russia. Senior government officials were on the phone with one dude, begging him to flip a switch or not flip a switch about the direction of a war, which launches a war of aggression or arguably national extinguishment. There is one guy with a lot of money and a lot of satellites.

To come back to what Chris was saying about this, I think in some ways where we are with minimal regulation of capitalism, and declining in a lot of ways in the United States, and the fact that we do not have a legal architecture right now which is regulating Starlink or even nationalizing Starlink—I am not advocating for that, but that would be one policy direction, saying this is a national security capability, and the government of a country from which this sprung would have an ability to nationalize that or at least control what goes on with it on matters of geopolitics.

I think this moment we are at flows in many respects from the ethos we saw ascendent from the 1980s, the 1990s, and into the first decade of the 21st century, and still now in many circles, and that ethos is what you could call “market fundamentalism,” that the less regulated a market the better the market and the better the outcomes, and you can only ratchet it toward less and less and less regulation.

With more regulated economies in many advanced republics versus the United States regarding what are the outcomes in terms of happiness, life expectancy, violence, and public health, there is a lot of data that runs against market fundamentalism, and I think on the national security level as well there is some pretty strong evidence too that maybe that is not the right approach. On the generational thing, from what I have been seeing in the data younger generations in the United States are much less market fundamentalists than my Gen X generation or the Boomers that preceded my generation.

MORGAN LIU: I want to speak to Dakota’s point and Chris’s as well concerning what—we are in a place and time that many have called a “new Gilded Age.” I guess the question is, will there be a new Progressive Era to follow that in reaction?

I think what is at stake are discussions about who are the goods of society for. The market fundamentalist view is that what is good for individuals and individual corporations is somehow also good for society in some broader sense, but there is evidence against that. When power and wealth are so concentrated, then it is demonstrable that the effect for the general public is very detrimental. The question is, what will it take for that kind of perspective to be adopted by enough of the population that it can become a political force to mobilize toward another Progressive Era of regulation, of programs that redistribute, and that think about the good of society in the longer term?

For me what the ethical question here is, what are notions of common good that are circulating in society? Are we willing to see in terms of different ways of creatively thinking about collective good that would include thinking about the future, not just the collective good right now but thinking about the possible needs of future generations, in a way that then would change our calculus to move us away from a market fundamentalism only as a paradigm for deciding what is good, how much regulation, and so forth.

We have brought up generations several times. Toward that, my sense—and maybe some of you can chime in on this one—is that younger generations tend to be more able and more willing to think about the collective good. There is no single consensus of what that looks like, but nonetheless there is a desire to think in those terms concerning any particular issue.

That brings us to questions of environment, climate change, pandemics, and a host of other issues—migrants moving across borders and all kinds of security issues. I think the difference in perspective of younger generations compared to older generations is that older generations have certain ways of looking at the world, certain categories, certain buckets into which they put different phenomena that are results of the Cold War or even the post-9/11 world of security and fighting against religious extremism and so forth. These commitments do not hold as strongly for the younger generations, and they are more willing—I am saying “they,” so maybe I am not part of that—to think.

We live in a heavily mediated society. A lot of you are growing up as digital natives. The world in many ways in its images, ideas, and sounds are immediately available in a way that was not formative to an older generation, so problems of the world, whether it is an earthquake in Turkey, Morocco, Afghanistan, or California, are all immediately available for our consideration. We are connecting the dots more and seeing that there is a common humanity. There are issues of suffering, no matter where that earthquake or attack is happening, so they may be more apt to think about the common good.

DANA HOWARD: I have some views. I will start with this generation. I wonder if it is more caring about the common good or having a view of the common good rather than a healthy skepticism of past narratives of what the common good entails and just being more informed about the dangers of those narratives.

It did not pan out for many of us. We live in the United States where the mortality rate is getting lower, the lowest in the past 40 years, the whole time I have been alive, you are less likely to own a home, you are less likely to go up in socioeconomic—the narrative of the common good of the 1950s and 1960s did not work for many of us, so I think there is this healthy skepticism. The older stories and the belief in markets is not an effective strategy.

Then the question is, what can we do now? What resources do we have to act collectively? There are different ways of thinking about solidarity, and one way of thinking about solidarity is that it requires some sort of shared understanding of the common good. That is actually a very narrow way of thinking about solidarity, and if you think about it in terms of a global perspective it is going to be not very effective, and it is not how we see solidarity acting in the real world. People across the globe can act in solidarity, and one way of thinking about it is to think about shared barriers to freedom and liberation or shared barriers to whatever it is that you think your good is, you see certain common barriers that you are going to work together to overcome.

Going back to techno-optimism, the techno-optimism story gives us a technological solution to much messier social, political, and legal problems, and I think this generation understands how complicated it all is. So now the question is, well, how do we move forward? I think one thing to say is that solidarity does not require a single answer. It actually requires more understanding of shared barriers to overcome.

CHRISTOPHER NICHOLS: I thought I would add one more thing for our conversation, and that gets to something Morgan and I were talking about before we got here, which is that a number of countries have built in ministries for the future or commissioners for the future. Wales has one of the most famous ones. The way they plan and think is on a 25-year time horizon or more to try to prevent the short-term thinking that we all know is endemic in society and politics today.

One way to think about this is, what do you think about solidarity through planning for future generations and actually instantiating that in policy so it is not simply—which is really important—transnational or different kinds of groups and configurations but actually having, say, a minister for the future in the United Staters or a czar for that? Maybe it is the most authoritarian kind of language that Americans like, a “czar for the future,” but, hey, if it works, maybe that is something we would want, and thinking about planning on a much longer time horizon.

So when I think about the concept of grand strategy, if there is anything to it, it is that it is matching necessarily limited means to long-term aspirational ends. We know we do not have that many means right now and do not have a consensus, but if the end is climate change, a lot of us can get behind that, and maybe you need a mechanism to enact that means. Maybe you need actually empowered officers, offices, or commissions that are thinking on these longer time horizons since many Western democracies—certainly this one—are hamstrung by short-term thinking.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Thank you. These are excellent, excellent discussion points. We do have a little bit of time for some questions from the audience. I see you bursting. I feel the energy, so bring it on.

QUESTION: I want to tie together a lot of points you mentioned and bring it back to something that Dr. Gvosdev brought up right at the beginning, which is that often politicians are choosing not between non-ethics and ethics but between ethical systems.

I have to say, as someone who is an avid viewer of the news, I sort of doubt that in a lot of cases. Living in the Internet era we are offered more transparency than ever into the thinking and reasoning of leaders in politics, in business, in our civic society, and in government, and what we have discovered again and again is that these people are making decisions not based on ethical systems but based on their personal whims, based on their personal interests, based on selfishness, based on greed, based on—in the case of Elon Musk—whoever happens to reply to him on Twitter on any particular day; in the case of Donald Trump, whoever happens to leave the room last; in the case of Mark Zuckerberg, whoever happens to pitch him the coolest-sounding idea about the metaverse; and then he will change his whole company to be called that.

You talked a lot about my generation, and my question is generally, what am I supposed to do with that? How can I engage at all honestly with politics, with business, with anything, when I look out in the world and all I see are these people? I’m sorry. I know that is very grim.

DAKOTA RUDESILL: I appreciate your question and where you are going with it, and I feel that in a big way. I feel that all the time. That is where my thoughts go and my feelings go very much, but I want to push back on your direction here and mine. This is the pushback I do with myself.

I think there is a constructible ethical perspective which is much more individualized, selfish, transactional, money-based, and power-based, and it is an ethical theory. I do not necessarily share it, but it is there. There are people who think about that, philosophers and other political and legal theorists, so I would push back in that sense. At that point, I think then we can evaluate different ethical models and which do we think is better.

What I would contrast that with is the existence of different ethical models that we can contrast with one another with different values, interests, and balances. That is something that is a big problem in legal ethics, which is something that I teach, and maybe we need to have part of this conversation, which is what I call “non-ethics,” which is not doing the work or not thinking about it. If you ask any bar disciplinary authority in this country—the State Bar Association of Ohio, whatever it might be—and especially the people who handle legal disciplinary cases, this comes up.

You have a lawyer who is accused of doing something unethical, like commingling the lawyer’s personal funds and the funds of the client, or prioritizing the interests of the lawyer ahead of those of the client in some other way. There are a lot of ethical rules. What any of those bar disciplinary authorities will tell you is the most often thing they hear when they counsel somebody about ethics is they say, “Oh, I didn’t know that ______,” like they did not know the ethical rule and did not think about it. They were just acting and moving forward. Unless they were being outwardly malicious, they were not thinking about it. They were not doing the work.

In a broader sense, whether we are talking about national politics, national economics, geopolitics, I think there are a lot of people who are not doing the ethical work, and maybe that is a bigger problem.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I am the eternal optimist in our Abbott-and-Costello approach here. I do think that if you look at history the progress of history is moving forward. You talk about the Gilded Age and women did not have the vote. We do have so much more power, and I do think there is a positive move forward, even if all the news is negative. I am a journalist, so I know. I feel you. If you are on TikTok all the time, you can either go crazy or have fun.

Lean into having fun. Lean into knowing that if you do put in the work, progress and movement are toward better things. I really do believe that.

QUESTION: I am Lily. I am a third-year here at Ohio State in Professor Nichols’ class. I was interested with what you guys were talking about regarding my generation and the younger generation. I did want to say that something I do not think you guys talked about too much was fear.

I can speak for myself and the people I have spoken to in my generation, and the thing that gets us is that we are scared of everything but mainly our future. We are scared that we are not going to be able to afford a place to rent or live and that we are going to be homeless and will not be able to afford food. We are scared of everything in our path. I think that is why you see so many people in my generation who are so passionate because we are so scared that we will have nothing in our future.

I don’t mean to call you guys out, but you do not have any younger voices on your panel because in society we put expertise and older expertise ahead of younger voices and new ideas because we believe expertise is worth more, in my opinion, and how that relates to foreign policy.

My question is: Do you believe it is more ethical to rely on older expertise while maybe shutting down younger voices and new ideas, or is it more ethical to rely on newer viewpoints at the cost of possibly putting people at harm in regard to foreign policy decisions?

MORGAN LIU: I really appreciate that question and that honesty about fear. I personally feel that decisions should always be made by as diverse a group of people as possible, and every dimension of diversity.

I say “diversity” not because it is politically correct or because it is the in thing or anything like that but because I believe that groups of people who are coming from different life experiences and points of view, philosophies, religions, and what have you, make better decisions collectively. There is actually evidence of that from studies in business schools. Corporate boards that are diverse in various ways actually make better decisions, measurable by stock price, sales, and so forth.

That to me is ultimately the entire argument for democracy. Why do we want a diverse society where alternative voices are not squelched as being dangerous to society? To me that is the essential difference between an authoritarian government and a democracy. Democracy makes room for disagreement. In fact, disagreement is actually a good thing. Disagreement is not demonized. An authoritarian government says, “If you disagree with me, not only are you wrong but you are evil and need to be eliminated.” This is what I believe is essentially what you are advocating, that maybe not this panel but other decision-making powers should include diverse voices, including younger voices.

Okay, there are advantages and disadvantages of being young, but that is the whole point of having people of different ages. We have different lengths of experiences and different experiences. I said earlier that older generations can be stuck in certain ways of thinking that may be not so healthy. We do need younger voices to break those molds. So I would say yes to that.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I also want to say that we are here with you. We are not talking at you, and I hope that you feel that. I really believe that. Let’s talk with each other. That is number one.

Number two, I think when you are young you do have fear. I had fear when I was in college too. That is not a great answer, but just so you know we all did it. We all lived it. I have a daughter and I fear for her, but we have to work together and we have to talk together.

I want to refer all of you to the Millennial Action Project, a group of young lawmakers we have had on the podcast, because we do believe in generational talking together and generational change, and that is one of the ethoses of why we are doing all of these talks around the country. They are a group of young lawmakers who are trying to cross the divide, so they are Republicans, Democrats, and Socialists trying to talk and work together on solutions and not seeing this divide. It is a great project.

I also refer you to Kristina Lunz, who is in the foreign policy realm. She has written a book; it is just coming out in English. She is going to be on our podcast. It is called The Future of Foreign Policy is Feminist, also looking at intersectionality in foreign policy and from a younger generation.

So there are voices. We are looking for them and finding them. If you have ideas, please share them with us. That is why we are here.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Because of what Morgan said, our previous podcast—the one we did at Metropolitan State University Denver with President Janine Davidson—expanded that about how you do get better outcomes when you have a much more diverse nature.

I would also say, why only have an American focus? Look at what your generational counterparts are doing elsewhere. I assure you that a lot of younger people in Poland felt very depressed and scared, and what did they do on Sunday? They turned out in record numbers in that election and they are removing their government from power that seemed unstoppable only two months ago.

Fear is important, but that should not lead to learned helplessness, when it becomes there is nothing you can do. You are voters, you are activists, and you are consumers. Some of you may become shareholders. This is why the solidarity question comes in, because you have the ability to work together.

If you are atomized—there is something about the U.S. system, and this may be what we are facing now, because Europe has gone through its generational transition, Latin America is going through a generational transition in terms of national leaders who are in their 30s and 40s. The United States is quite the exception, still having—as we are likely to see next year—two Baby Boom candidates running for president, which is not what we are seeing elsewhere.

One of the things behind The Doorstep is that international news matters because America is not the world and—going back to your point—there are things we can learn from other countries, and I think one of them is generational transitions because it is not happening here.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I think we have time for one more question.

QUESTION: I am going to bridge the two questions that came before me. We have talked a lot today about the importance of ethical thinking. A lot of you guys mentioned the importance of having younger voices. We talked about just now diversity of age ranges and trying to reach more people, but going back to the first question, we have a lot of young people who are disaffected, who are scared, and who feel that people in power—politicians, university trustees, corporations, and billionaires—do not care what people have to say and beyond that are actively working to suppress those voices. We see that in talking about voter-suppression laws and conversations about possibly trying to raise the minimum voting rage, where you see people trying to undercut the power of young people.

I myself am a huge believer in the power that young people have, but I want to turn it back onto you guys. While we are doing our best to gather this power in our inexperience, what do you guys believe are your responsibilities in trying to help protect those voices, and not only that, what do you believe it is your responsibility as a generation to contribute to that conversation?

DAKOTA RUDESILL: Are we all of the same generation?

DANA HOWARD: I am an “old” so it is okay. There are also political movements to try to lower the voting age to 16 or 14. It seems like experiments in political representation. There are also political philosophers—this is out of my pay grade—thinking about quotas in terms of representation in elective office and having a youth representation or thinking a little bit more seriously about diversity of representation and not just geographic representation or gerrymandered geographical representation.

What are the responsibilities of the olds? Retire? That is an easy thing to say when my people can retire, but that is financially not feasible for a lot of people. One thing to see are the ways in which a couple of systems have made it difficult for people to not act in their self-interest. When we think about shareholders, that is a lot of people’s retirement funds, so then you end up having this weird generational shift where people who actually have a retirement that they are waiting for have an interest in the market share value of the stock options and the status quo. There are these interesting systemic structural problems. One thing we can see is that we need to work together to try to undermine those.

There is transnational solidarity, and I think there is cross-generational solidarity too. In thinking about access to healthcare, when you look at the mortality rate, a lot of the people who are dying untimely deaths are actually Boomers, and that is not just because of COVID-19, so there are these real systemic issues that are affecting different generations in a way that we can come together and try to act in solidarity.

QUESTION: You mentioned that you expect students to bring up those changes and to dismantle those centers of power and capital. I understood that because it is like a map of a future that depends on us, but I wanted to pose a similar question: How do you feel from your position, where you have more resources, that you contributed to our future and to your own future? What are those small steps that you did having the resources that you have? This is a similar question, and it is solidarity that you are trying to let us fight for.

My other question was: Since I come from Montenegro in Southeast Europe—this is the country that Trump said might cause the Third World War—here we are going to have a change of the government and the first pro-Russian after almost 20 years, even though the country is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The reason it is happening is because like American policy all of this is to justify their moves in international relations using ethical concepts, and you can prove very easily in practice that it has nothing to do with ethics and it is most likely in the interests of capital.

My question would be: Do you think it is a good idea to associate national politics and security issues with ethical concepts? Maybe they should be either firmly separated, or it should be admitted that they are justified in actual ethical principles.

CHRISTOPHER NICHOLS: I have one thought there. There is a lot in both of your questions. We could go for another hour, which we cannot do, but I will talk a little about those.

As a scholar of isolationism in particular, I would say that in American foreign relations one of the critical ethical components is that it is multifaceted and that you cannot divorce those ethical claims from the policies, even if you can skeptically analyze and see that there is a lot else going on there.

One response is: Ethical claims and ethical rhetoric will always be present. Then, two, to decode what is actually going on you need to have a broader sense of the context of those kinds of claims. A third-level way of understanding it is that as these ethical claims are leveraged they can actually be useful in any nation-state or even in international relations.

American isolationist arguments, when I first started studying them, I thought would be anathema to me, but the reality is that in many limited situations people pushing back on rash interventionism has been very useful for the United States not taking actions too fast. So the ethical claims made by isolationists, even if you might find nativism repugnant, might actually have a net positive in the end. I do not mean to be optimistic because there is plenty of downside to those kinds of claims. As you think through the specific kinds of ethical rhetorics and the realities that they are interwoven with, then you get to some of the broader things.

The United States will always make these ethical claims to justify its foreign policy. That is without a doubt, but then if you look at specific nation-states or international organizations I think you find that those are very hollow claims. Then it is on all of us to call them out. In that sense, the citizenry does matter because public opinion polls on a less-formed policy, as we know from communications literature, do have impacts.

DAKOTA RUDESILL: I found the last three or four questions interesting and stimulating, and I just wanted to add this point: On the point of what can we do, as in “What can we do?” and what can any of us do, I thought about, “What can I do?” I am a professor at a professional school. I train lawyers.

As I think about it, I want to push back a little bit on the idea that power structures as they exist right now and expertise are these circles which are nice symmetrical circles. I think those are different things, and I think actually expertise is not the problem. You look at all sorts of people who have massive power and almost no expertise, and they make terrible decisions, like Elon Musk. I am sure he is a great programmer, but what is his expertise about the interests of Ukraine, geopolitics, or—

CHRISTOPHER NICHOLS: Free speech.

DAKOTA RUDESILL: Look at what has happened with Twitter. There are so many examples of this, people who have massive power but low expertise, and generally good decisions do not come of that.

I look at too what we see with democratic backsliding and case studies of republics and democracies which have fallen into authoritarianism. A standard part of the authoritarian playbook is to smash independent professions. Why is that? Because they have ethics. For the legal, medical, military, and intelligence professions, one of their core ethical commitments is a commitment to the truth and providing independent advice. You cannot say to your doctor, “Well, I’m the patient, and I’m telling you I have cancer, and therefore you are going to give me this treatment.”

The doctor says: “No, you have a heart problem.”

You cannot as a professional substitute the judgment of somebody else for your own judgment, so it is this commitment to professional independence and a commitment to the truth and an ethical duty to speak truth to power. I see that again in multiple fields.

I look at our imperfect and problematic world, the misuse of power, and the fear which you talk about—which I certainly feel and absorb from many others too—and say: “I don’t think the answer to this is that we need less expertise in the world and we need fewer professionals.” I think we need the professions, we need a lot of expertise, and we need them to think consciously about ethics and to be trained to be people of integrity and people of courage and to understand that their job is to protect the truth and to speak truth to power.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I think that is a great quote to end this Global Ethics Day. Thank you so much for being here with us. We really appreciate you. Let’s continue the conversation. We have materials for you. Engage with us at Carnegie Council.

Thank you to our wonderful panelists. You are awesome. Thank you.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: We hope you have enjoyed this conversation that we had in Columbus, taking this conversation about ethics and the duties and obligations we owe each other in terms of our communities and as a global community that we had here in Columbus and getting a sense of, as Tatiana indicated in the opening, the different types of ethics but also considering the tradeoffs between different ethical courses of action. We hope that this gives you a way to think about these issues and to connect what we are seeing in global affairs and in the news headlines to your own day-to-day lives.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Speaking of connecting, we are going to continue connecting with The Doorstep and live work around the country in the spring. We hope to see you. Please get in touch with us if you would like us to come to your campus. We look forward to continuing this series in the spring, but we will back with a new podcast episode looking at the news soon. Also we encourage you to look at carnegiecouncil.org and sign up for our next Book Talk with Bethany Allen, the author of Beijing Rules: How China Weaponized Its Economy to Confront the World on November 15.

Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs is an independent and nonpartisan nonprofit. The views expressed within this event are those of the panelists and do not necessarily reflect the position of Carnegie Council.

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