Entry from June 13, 2014

Was it Locke or Hobbes — I can never remember — who said that princes always exist in a state of nature with respect to each other? At any rate, it is clear that the state of nature in which princes — or, as we should say, nations — do exist is a Hobbesian one. Another way of putting it would be to say that international relations take place in a moral environment so different from that of civil society that it might be called pre-moral or even immoral, which I think was the point of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932). Still another way of putting it would be to point to the fact that, in international relations, the ancient and once all important honor culture which has all but died out in the civil society of America and Western Europe is still very much alive.

Those who are familiar with my book, Honor, A History, will know that in honor cultures, including the Western one when we still had it, honor invariably means different things for men and women. I don’t think we need to get into the vexed question of the extent to which the difference results from biological or "socially constructed" differences between the sexes to note that the differences in male and female honor are still clearly visible even in our post-honor society. As I wrote in the book, if you call a man a coward or a woman a slut you are still, remarkably enough, risking a violent riposte, whereas the reverse does not apply and never has. If, then, this fundamental difference between the sexes still exists, whatever the reason for it, does it have any application to international relations wherein the primitive honor culture, despite our fondest wishes, never went away?

Not, apparently, in the opinion of Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post, who claims that Hillary Clinton’s record as Secretary of State presages her approach to the presidency, should she succeed in her presumptive effort to achieve it, and especially her record as a campaigner for women’s rights around the world. She might have said that Mrs Clinton’s record as First Lady is the more relevant consideration, since it is traditional for First Ladies to adopt a "cause," as Mrs Clinton adopted that of the rights of women and girls and as Michelle Obama has adopted the cause of childhood obesity and nutrition. Unfortunately, this distinctively feminine approach to international relations is unlikely to be of much use in the equally distinctively male environment of the world stage, where the actors are constantly sizing one another up as potential opponents, should it come to a fight.

That’s why the great model for women in politics used to be the first Queen Elizabeth who, when fears of an invasion by Spanish troops commanded by the Duke of Parma succeeded the encounter of her navy with the Spanish Armada at Gravelines, said to the English troops assembled at Tilbury: "I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field."

Far from what the headline to Ms Henderson’s piece calls a "women-centric approach to foreign policy," this national leaderene (as Private Eye used to call Margaret Thatcher), proclaimed herself an honorary — and honorable — man. So, in effect, did Mrs Thatcher herself when she led her less robustly masculine cabinet colleagues into war with Argentina over the Falklands Islands. By contrast, our own Jimmy Carter had recently set the precedent for the feminine approach to American foreign policy — that is, nagging the boys about their human rights record instead of fighting, or threatening to fight them — which is still being followed with disastrous results by the Obama administration today. There are many reasons for those who are concerned about the future of American leadership in the world to dread the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency, but none more salient than her apparent belief that the office is a mere bully pulpit for advocacy on behalf of progressive causes around the world.

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