Saturday, June 6, 2009

It's a Long Way to Tipperary, in Revenge of the Geographers, presents a series of critiques of Robert Kaplan's Revenge of the Geographers.

Kaplan's article, which we have discussed, assers

In this century's fight for Eurasia, like that of the last century, Mackinder's axiom holds true: Man will initiate, but nature will control. Liberal universalism and the individualism of Isaiah Berlin aren't going away, but it is becoming clear that the success of these ideas is in large measure bound and determined by geography. This was always the case, and it is harder to deny now, as the ongoing recession will likely cause the global economy to contract for the first time in six decades. Not only wealth, but political and social order, will erode in many places, leaving only nature's frontiers and men's passions as the main arbiters of that age-old question: Who can coerce whom? We thought globalization had gotten rid of this antiquarian world of musty maps, but now it is returning with a vengeance.

We all must learn to think like Victorians. That is what must guide and inform our newly rediscovered realism. Geographical determinists must be seated at the same honored table as liberal humanists, thereby merging the analogies of Vietnam and Munich. Embracing the dictates and limitations of geography will be especially hard for Americans, who like to think that no constraint, natural or otherwise, applies to them. But denying the facts of geography only invites disasters that, in turn, make us victims of geography.

Most of these articles focus on the subjective consequences of following the various Victorian era thinkers whom Kaplan has cited.

This focus misses the point. The point is that - unlike the recent past - moving stuff from point A to Point B is no longer something we can take for granted. Whatever should be done in Afghanistan is being severely constrained by the difficulties we are facing in supplying the army. The Somali pirates matter because they lie so near the Suez canal. Mexican drug cartels, facing increased difficulties in moving cocaine across the United States' border, are responding by developing new distribution routes to Europe.

All of these are logistics problems. And they are going to grow more, not less, problematic with time. Solving these problem will require us to place greater and greater weight on the geography surrounding the routes through which stuff must flow.

This challenge is more important than any revival of Victorianism ( even though the Victorians, for all their faults, nevertheless did legalize cocaine. )

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