Moderation is an elusive but important virtue that is equally valuable in personal and political life. Professor Aurelian Craiutu has previously explored the role moderation–and its absence–played in eighteenth and nineteenth century France. In this volume, he examines the concept itself through close readings of the works of such diverse figures as Raymond Aron, Isaiah Berlin, Norberto Bobbio, Michael Oakeshott, and Adam Michnik. He wants to know what it meant to be a moderate in the twentieth century–the age of extreme politics–what ends moderates sought to advance, their view of political life, and the shared characteristics of “moderate minds” in action. Does moderation have a strong normative core? And is there such a thing as a moderate style?
Jessica L. Adler, who teaches history and health policy at Florida International University, offers us a valuable, well-organized, and carefully researched history of the origin and early development of what is today the mammoth and often troubled Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system. Mammoth it is; the VA treats over 9 million veterans each year in 170 medical centers and over 1000 outpatient clinics staffed by more than 300,000 personnel. It is the largest integrated health system in the nation and costs over $60 billion to operate annually. Although rarely described this way, the VA system is America’s main example of socialized medicine.
The fog of war plays a prominent role in Carl von Clausewitz’s reflections on armed struggle. In Ann Hironaka’s rethinking of war, that fog becomes all consuming, obscuring the information needed to understand and prepare for battle. Victory in war is unpredictable and tantamount to random in clashes between competitors with roughly comparable power (41). Power being hard to measure, strategists can rarely know how costly a war will be. Predictions of casualties in the 1991 Gulf War, for example, were too low by an order of magnitude (10). Strategists commonly miscalculate the best strategy in a given context, for example, seeing the offense as having the advantage on the eve of World War I while expecting the defense to dominate in World War II. With profound uncertainty encumbering military analysis, defining the national security interest of the state becomes arbitrary, Hironaka argues.
On 13 July 2017, religious and political representatives met at the Farnesina in Rome for the International Conference on Protecting Religious Communities. Knox Thames, the Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia, represented the U.S. State Department. Religious freedom, Thames told those in attendance, represented not only a fundamental human right of individuals, but was also “one of the essential conditions for permanent peace, security, and stability.” As attacks by terrorists as well as repression by authoritarian regimes threatened the existence of religious minorities across the Middle East, Thames assured the other conference attendees that protecting and promoting religious freedom remained a policy priority of the Donald Trump administration.
Edward C. Keefer provides us with the “authorized, but not official” history of Harold Brown’s tenure as the 14th Secretary of Defense as part of the Department of Defense series on its secretaries. It is authorized in that Keefer had access to the official records, but not official in that Keefer’s assessment of Brown’s time in office, the Jimmy Carter years, is his own. Keefer sees Brown as a loyal and effective Secretary whose reputation needs some rehabilitation because Carter was an unsuccessful Commander-in-Chief, naive and smug in his handling of security issues thorough out his presidency, overly concerned with cutting back on defense in his first two years, and then totally knocked off his horse by the Iranian Revolution with its seizure of U.S. embassy staff and the failed American rescue mission, and the Soviet Union’s unexpected and alarming invasion of Afghanistan in his last two years.
The Donald Trump administration seems to value change for its own sake. The new President appears intent on rethinking all foreign-policy rules and norms, from diplomatic protocols to staffing to relationships with traditional allies. The next four-to-eight years may prove to be a watershed for U.S. grand strategy, a challenge to fundamental assumptions that forces security experts to re-examine their most deeply held beliefs. Or, perhaps little will change. At the very least, the Trump administration will test the notion that U.S. foreign affairs are marked far more by consistency than by change.
Catherine Goetze’s The Distinction of Peace is an important book. It breaks new ground in viewing peacebuilding as a field, and analyzing what attracts people to it and what enables some of them to remain. It contributes to research agendas on interventions in conflict zones, power in international encounters, and peacebuilding as a form of practice. What Goetze does particularly well is to show how seemingly commonsensical arguments about the desirability of peace and non-violence are used to create and sustain boundaries of a field, whose tentative insiders draw on the authority embedded in these arguments to position themselves in pursuit of distinction.
Throughout the 1990s, the study of nationalism, and state and national identities gained momentum in the discipline of International Relations (IR). With the emergence of ethno-national claims across the globe and the dissolution of multinational states, authors sought to comprehend what drove national interests and behaviors both domestically and internationally. Recently, literature on identities and cultures has again been burgeoning—with one major difference. In the 1990s, national identities and cultures were largely depicted as uniform, cohesive ‘units’ that would explain states’ behaviors and interests. Literature on strategic culture is a relevant case in point. Currently, authors seem to be focusing instead on the diversity of identities and recognition of difference. Andrew Hurrell’s decade-long research agenda on pluralism and global international relations is an illustrative example.
Quite a few scholars in International Relations (IR) date its origin as a field of study from 1919; others, including this reviewer, see the years directly after World War II as the point of origin. Either way, IR is the new gang on the block, seriously short on street cred. The block housing the social sciences itself is newish and not much respected in the neighborhood; lots of kids in the newer gangs like to brag about where their ancestors come from, how great they were back then, how they set the tone for everybody in the neighborhood, how it is good to go back and look at what they had to say about life in the ’hood. Our gang does this more than any of the others, or so it seems to me. I do it—a lot. It’s easy, it’s fun, it makes us feel good, it’s not likely to get much notice down the block. Which is also good: the other gangs don’t give us much grief. And not so good: they still don’t give us much respect. Anyway, it’s a game, a kid’s game, a story-telling game, “an amusing jeu d’esprit” (4), as the editors of The Return of the Theorists tell us.
Nic von Wielligh’s new book on the history of the South African nuclear project is a timely contribution to the on-going scholarly debate on why and how countries choose to develop, maintain and dismantle nuclear weapons programs. Since South Africa is the only country to date that has undergone a voluntary complete nuclear roll-back, its history is particularly important to scholars of nuclear proliferation, especially in the contemporary context of the debate surrounding Iran’s nuclear program and its trajectory. The author, nuclear physicist Nic von Wielligh, began his involvement in South Africa’s nuclear program in 1975, graduating into a managerial position in South Africa’s Atomic Energy Corporation a decade later. This unique position enabled von Wielligh, with the assistance of his daughter, Lydia von Wielligh-Steyn, to write the book from an insider’s perspective, revealing many previously unknown details and filling-in some much sought-after gaps in the literature on South Africa’s nuclear endeavour.