II: Samantha Power and Rwanda – Authority and Impotence

II: Samantha Power and Rwanda – Authority and Impotence

by

Howard Adelman

In Evan Osnos’ article on Samantha Power, David Rothkopf, the editor of Foreign Policy, who is a very prolific author and had just published National Insecurity (2014), was quoted on Samantha Power as follows: “Here is the person who wrote the best-reported, analyzed cri de coeur on genocide, in an Administration that has effectively said, in the face of humanitarian disasters, we’re going to do very little, whether it is the continuing catastrophe in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Syria or the brewing problem with Rohingya – Muslims persecuted in Burma.” Note Rothkopf’s careful depiction of Samantha’s famous 2002 book, not as the best, which is the way the quote is often recalled, but as the “best-reported” book. Further, Rothkopf does not even say it is the best-reported analysis of genocide, but it is the cri de coeur that has been analyzed and been widely reported. And the end of the quote is precious; it is a stiletto indictment of the Obama administration for both hypocrisy and passivity. (I will expand on this at the end and in later blogs.) The issue is not Samantha Power’s acuity and ability at dissection, but her ability to cry with utter outrage and get widespread coverage while not being dismissed simply as a bleeding heart.

The quote aptly captures the strength of the book. It is not a careful dissection of genocide or of particular genocides. It is not good scholarship. It is a moving account driven by a powerful moral impetus that captures and captivates the reader while, at the same time, providing a heartfelt rather than pugilistic advertisement for herself. I will not dissect and analyze her whole book. Instead I will focus on her one chapter on bystanders to the Rwanda genocide, a subject on which Astri Suhrke, a Norwegian colleague, and I undertook the first international analysis.

Yesterday, in dealing with Evan Osnos’ essay on Samantha Power in the recent New Yorker that focuses on the relationship between influence and power, I concentrated not so much on her influence on those in power but on the influences on Samantha – psychological, personal, political, experiential. I stressed the importance older men might have assumed in that development. Samantha certainly sought out such links. In one very minor example that I know from my son, Jeremy, who wrote a biography of Albert Hirschman (which, coincidentally, Samantha Power’s husband, Cass Sunstein, reviewed extremely favourably in the New York Review of Books), Samantha had sent Albert at the institute for Advanced Study in Princeton a signed copy of her 2002 book with a fairly fawning note that she had been personally very much influenced by and very appreciative of Albert’s 1970 book, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. In her intellectual development, she had always been torn between the pole requiring loyalty in service of an administration and adopting a role trying to influence an administration (that is, exercise a voice).

In Osnos’s article there is a discussion of the problem of the Obama administration not hearing her pleas over the three years of the Syrian crisis. Her answer was that, as long as she was heard, even if not listened to, as long as she could possibly influence policy, she would serve the administration. It was clear that she had paid no real attention to the issue of “exit” in Hirschman’s book even though, as a journalist, she had urged resignation for morally committed but frustrated individuals in an earlier crisis. She had praised the actions of a young foreign-service officer who had resigned from the National Security Council to protest the U.S. invasion of Cambodia in 1970. She lauded his moral sensibility and his choice of “exit” as the correct one. But when it came to her own choices, exit, loyalty and voice were not the three points of a triangle. Rather voice and loyalty were simply poles of a dichotomous tension. It seems clear that she herself had never seriously considered the option of an “exit”.

The issue raised above should not be confused with a sense of post-service loyalty following exit that restrains the exercise of voice. After one exits from a position of authority, civic duty requires a respectful period of silence. In an op-ed, Samantha’s husband, Cass Sunstein, praised George Bush for resisting all efforts to induce him to comment on Obama’s foreign policy. But Leon Panetta, Obama’s former CIA director and Secretary of Defense, in his book Worthy Fights, and Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense under both Bush and Obama, in his book, Duty, had no such compunction. Panetta revealed private debates that were expected to remain private, at least for the term of the president. Gates charged Obama with losing his way and that the White House was “so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests.”
In an interview promoting his book, Gates concluded that, with respect to Afghanistan, Obama “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.” As Cass Sunstein argued, “former Cabinet members owe a duty of loyalty to a sitting president, not least because they have been able to participate in internal discussions. In those discussions, officials generally deserve to be able to speak on the understanding that what they say will not appear in a book — certainly not while the president remains in office.” When you first exit from office, both voice and influence are temporarily trumped.

Confidentiality and loyalty do have limits. If a former official was exposed to genuine wrongdoing — for example, in the form of illegality, as opposed to policy disagreements — he or she may have a duty to speak out. Neither Panetta nor Gates point to any such wrongdoing. They did lack grace; gracelessness is indeed an insufficiently acknowledged vice. But Samantha is guilty of the opposite – not simply fawning loyalty at the sacrifice of principle, but becoming an apologist and spin doctor portraying disastrous policies as valiant efforts. (I will return to develop this theme in subsequent case study blogs.)

Hence, Samantha’s focus on loyalty and voice to the exclusion of exit. This is as an example of her simplistic and dichotomous thinking, the thinking of a moralist, even when dealing with Albert Hirschman who was anything but one. In 2002, Samantha and my path crossed over this issue, but focused specifically on Rwanda. I and my Norwegian colleague, Astri Suhrke, in 1995, with the help of a team of eighteen other researchers, had written an in depth study for an international consortium of 19 states, including the USA, and 18 international agencies, on the role of bystanders in the Rwanda genocide. Samantha’s book had not yet been published when we met, but she had written an article in The Atlantic in 2001 that presented an early version of her book chapter on Rwanda

From that article, it was clear she had not relied on French, Belgian or the other scholars who wrote companion volumes to ours on the actual conduct of the genocide, but had relied on Philip Gourevitch’s bracing, very moving and well-written, though also not always accurate, account in The New Yorker. (See his subsequent book, We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families.) Samantha was writing, not so much about the course of the genocide itself, but the role of bystanders, the very topic we had studied and recorded in such detail.

Her focus was the United States, not the role of other states – France, Belgium, Canada, or international agencies, primarily the UN. She asked: “Why did the United States not do more for the Rwandans at the time of the killings? Did the President really not know about the genocide, as his marginalia suggested? Who were the people in his Administration who made the life-and-death decisions that dictated U.S. policy? Why did they decide (or decide not to decide) as they did? Were any voices inside or outside the U.S. government demanding that the United States do more? If so, why weren’t they heeded? And most crucial, what could the United States have done to save lives?” In fact, most of the questions she raised remained unanswered in her chapter on Rwanda. Her general interpretation alleged that the inaction was primarily due to a lack of focus on the ground in Rwanda and a failure to communicate what was happening to the highest level. When she joined the Obama administration, this interpretation – or misinterpretation – became the foundation of how she personally carried out her role upon moving next door to the pinnacle of power.

She began by an initial falsehood. “So far people have explained the U.S. failure to respond to the Rwandan genocide by claiming that the United States didn’t know what was happening, that it knew but didn’t care, or that regardless of what it knew there was nothing useful to be done.” But our study had offered none of these answers. In our initial account, we had explained that the Mogadishu syndrome, as we had dubbed it, the American experience in Somalia in 1993, made so vivid by the film, Blackhawk Down, had traumatized the US with respect to intervening in Africa. Later, based on further research, but much before Samantha Power undertook her research between 1998 and 2001, we had revised our original thesis to argue that the October 1993 Somalia incident was not the instigator for turning a blind eye to intervention, but the nail in the coffin of intervention that had already been set in place as a result of the Clinton administration’s struggle with Newt Gingrich’s Congress over funding. Bill Clinton had already determined to limit his exposure to criticism from the Republicans about wasteful expenditures in overseas ventures. The Administration determined not to become involved in funding peacekeeping ventures, let alone deploying any peacekeepers.

Admittedly, Samantha had the advantage of just having accessed previously classified US documents that we had not seen, but, as we had said in our report, American administration personnel had been extremely open with us, including a key person in the CIA, a State Department analyst who shared with us a report he had prepared on the run-up to the genocide, and the American ambassador in Rwanda. We had also exchanged with our colleague, Michael Barnett at the University of Wisconsin, his knowledge and inside information as a member of the United States UN delegation; he had been responsible for the Rwanda file when he was on a one year leave from the department. His book, Eyewitness to a genocide: The United Nations and Rwanda discussing the United States and the UN roles, appeared the same year as Samantha Power’s book, to general academic acclaim, but none of the wide publicity that Samantha’s much more anecdotal account had received. He had already published an article that she could have accessed while she was undertaking research for her book.

Samantha drew the same conclusion that we had much earlier and Michael had drawn contemporaneously with her book. The U.S. government “knew enough about the genocide early on to save lives, but passed up countless opportunities to do so.” What she had presented as an original finding was the consensus of earlier studies, not an amazing and original insight. Samantha also echoed our earlier conclusion that the U.S. not only failed to send troops, but “led” in the effort to remove most of the UN peacekeepers, an account we corrected in subsequent studies well before her interpretation had been published. She made this claim in spite of the evidence already published by representatives on the UN Security Council and the fact that, although the United States was a leading voice, and Michael Barnett had joined the chorus of non-interventionists, the majority of the Security Council were of the same mind. This interpretation was also the one made by both the Nigerian and the New Zealand delegates on the Security Council who had opposed the draw-down of peacekeepers.

The issue was not an error in interpretation, but that the error was made in spite of other prior scholarship that undercut that analysis, positions which the writer failed to acknowledge and challenge. The problem was not that she wrote a journalist account, but that she wrote one claiming original scholarship without evidently reading the other scholarship available. Further, the important focus was to tell a moral tale of virtually exclusive American perfidious behaviour.

Samantha was correct that the U.S. aggressively undermined the effort to send reinforcements once the genocide became widely known three weeks after it started. For example, as we had documented, the U.S. had agreed to supply armoured personnel carriers once the UN reversed its draw-down policy, but the U.S. military ended up in a dispute with the UN that lasted five weeks over who should pay the costs of painting the vehicles in the white and blue of the UN. It is also true, as we documented, that the U.S. had assiduously refused to use the term “genocide”, however, not because use of the term would obligate the United States to become involved in the genocide as Samantha claimed in a very prevalent misunderstanding about international law, but becaause the use of the term might encourage public pressure, which was unwelcome, to get the administration to act. But, in general, Samantha was correct: “staying out of Rwanda was an explicit U.S. policy objective.”

Samantha, however, made other mistakes. She claimed that during the “first three days of the killings [6-9 April 1994] U.S. diplomats in Rwanda reported back to Washington that well-armed extremists were intent on eliminating the Tutsi.” There are two things wrong with this assertion. First, months before, primarily through Canada’s General Roméo Dallaire’s January cable to the UN, U.S. diplomats had been informed of these extremist intentions. In fact, even before Dallaire wrote his infamous cable, a lowly policy analyst in the U.S. State Department had written virtually the same thing in his report. On the other hand, in spite of pleas from the political officer in the Swiss delegation in Rwanda and from the Papal Nuncio in Kigali, the American ambassador in Rwanda, David Rawson (who happened to be one of the rare diplomats in Rwanda who spoke Kinyarwanda because he had been the son of a missionary in Rwanda and Burundi and had also written a PhD thesis on Burundi), had been very complacent about the events building up to the genocide and had been blindsided and struck silent by the events as they unfolded when the genocide broke out on 6 April 1994. Further, in the first days, senior American officials simply viewed what was taking place as a coup. President Clinton on 6 April 2014 said that he was “shocked and deeply saddened … horrified that elements of the Rwandan security forces have sought out and murdered Rwandan officials.”

In the first few days after the outbreak, all diplomats in Kigali, not just the Americans, were primarily concerned with getting their diplomatic corps and their families, as well as the ex-patriates out of the country. With rare exceptions, they were not focused on the atrocities taking place but on exit. The diplomats in Rwanda were far too busy dealing with the exodus to undertake a political analysis of what was taking place in Rwanda. As President Clinton himself said on 8 April 1994, “I just want to assure the families of those who are there that we are doing everything we possibly can to be on top of the situation to take all the appropriate steps to try to assure the safety of our citizens there.”

As far as the American press is concerned, the first report of the atrocities taking place in Rwanda in North America – earlier accounts appeared in the Belgian and French press – was three weeks after the genocide started. It was an op-ed in The Globe and Mail by Alison des Forges who later that year published the classic Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda under the auspices of Human Rights Watch. Samantha does not cite any of the press reports in the first three days that she claims, “spoke of the door-to-door hunting of unarmed civilians”, though, of course, there had been reports of the hunting down of the moderates in the government by the extremist military and Hutu militias. But that could be a military coup, not genocide. Samantha is correct that, by the end of the second week, Alison, and others, badgered the U.S, government insisting that a genocide was underway in Rwanda.
If Samantha had read Michael Barnett’s critical analysis of his own work at the UN, it is clear that he, and many others, did allow genocide to happen, but they did not do so passively; they actively urged that the U.S.A. not become involved. So why did Samantha come to conclude, in line with her future husband’s views but before she ever knew him, that “without strong leadership the system will incline toward risk-averse policy choices”. Our study had concluded that the American leadership was actively promoting risk-averse policy choices as were many others lower down in the hierarchy. Barnett’s impressive study was an analysis of why this was the case.

Samantha also wrote that, “We also see that with the possibility of deploying U.S. troops to Rwanda taken off the table early on—and with crises elsewhere in the world unfolding—the slaughter never received the top-level attention it deserved.” The fact is that deploying American troops to Rwanda was not even a consideration. The subject was never on the table. This was a UN peacekeeping force. Americans did not provide UN peacekeepers. They just helped pay the costs. And America was no longer willing to pay those costs. That had been the established policy a year before the Rwanda genocide broke out.

The United States was not inattentive because the deployment of American troops was an undesirable consideration. That possibility was never considered. The American government was deliberately inattentive. As one CIA policy analyst told the UN when American surveillance photos of Rwanda were requested, “We do not have any. Why should we waste our money taking aerial pictures of Rwanda? It is not a security interest of ours.” Americans were not, as Samantha claimed, asserting that they were doing all they could or should. The issue was not the choice among possibilities, as the title of Osnos’ article suggests, but choices among very different objectives which issued from moral norms. American officials were insisting that they were doing all they were willing to do, a very different proposition than all they could or should do, for it was not a proposition based on moral imperatives but on realpolitik.

A reporter had asked Samantha after she had been instrumental in creating the new Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) in the White House, how the Board’s work became operational in crises like Syria or the Central African Republic. Samantha, then Ambassador to the UN, answered that the board was “a symptom of his [Obama’s] larger commitment” to discover new tools to bring to bear on these crises. As tools she mentioned sanctions on people using new technologies to commit atrocities, the Rewards for Justice for tipsters to help arrest Joseph Kony or focusing on the Central African Republic “that history shows would not necessarily rise within a bureaucracy on their own”. Of course. Joseph Kony has not been arrested. The sanctions on users of technologies preceded the creation of the APB. Finally, the precise problem was that the Board was just symbolic. There was so little evidence that anything had been delivered on the ground, but more on this in later blogs.

Contrast the APB with a program funded mostly by the American government – FEWER, the Forum on Early Warning and Early Response under the auspices of IGAD in East Africa. I have been unable to find out whether she knows about this early warning system and the parallel early warning system in West Africa, CEWARN. The latter led to the arrest of Charles Taylor and prevented the resumption of a civil war in Liberia. FEWER led to preventing low level outbreaks of atrocities in the criminally-organized tribal rustling of cattle, but has thus far been ineffective either in inter-state or large-scale inter-ethnic conflicts within states such as in Kenya and, more recently, in South Sudan. There have been concrete operational successes by American-funded programs that she could have cited, but they both preceded and had nothing to do with the high profile symbolic APB and its enormous focus on bureaucracy rather than detailed work on the ground.

When she almost boasts about the administration uncovering the Christian-Muslim violence unfolding in CAR, I want to scream. Much to our surprise, this was the first revelation of our first early warning trial run in Nigeria in the late nineties. Tom Axworthy told us that he could not renew our funding because the results did not present any findings that were “actionable” by the Canadian government. When Samantha boasts that, “We’re trying to get an African Union force in there [CAR] as quickly as possible and to sound the alarm in venues like this one,” I want to guffaw, for the African Union, with American financial support, has been active in early warning and intervention for over a decade. As much as I am a supporter of Barack Obama, there is little evidence, unfortunately, that his administration has done anything significantly different or on a larger scale in this arena. I would have loved to be proven wrong in probing Samantha’s accomplishments, but the evidence is not there and she has done little to supply it.

The fact is, Samantha is just dead wrong. Rwanda did not fall through the cracks in the bureaucracy during the Clinton administration as she contends. It is an example of sloppy research and analyses leading to misplaced policies. The focus on organization, messaging and constituencies of this administration may be very useful for spin, but it does almost nothing to help the people on the ground and ameliorate the humanitarian disaster in Syria and Iraq, CAR or South Sudan. What is the good of hearing the complaints of the NGOs if there is nothing that comes out the other side? Further, the problem in Rwanda was not that Alison des Forges lacked access, but that there were other agendas; the ears of government were deliberately closed.

Prophets, Priests and Politicians: Parashat Korah, Numbers 19:1 – 22.1

Prophets, Priests and Politicians: Parashat Korah, Numbers 19:1 – 22.1        15.06.13

by

Howard Adelman

Repeatedly, Moses is described as the greatest leader the Jewish people ever had. There was also no one like Miriam. Without Aaron, would Moses have reached his great success? In this segment, both Miriam and Aaron die in that order; shortly thereafter it will be Moses’ turn. All three die in that final year in the wilderness without entering the Promised Land. What an illustrious and mutually complementary leadership the trio had made. As it is written in Micah (6:4), “I brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, and I sent before you Moses, and Aaron, and Miriam.” (See also I Chronicles 5:29) 

Moses was the rabbi, the teacher/leader (Moshe Rabbenu מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ) rather than a high priest or a thundering seer. He was also a man of action who assassinated an Egyptian slave taskmaster and had to flee. He knew when to get out and when and how to get his people out and then traverse enemy territory successfully. 

The Torah speaks of Moses and the prophets; rarely does it suggest that Moses was a prophet. Yet most Christian and many Jewish commentaries assert he was the greatest prophet that ever lived.  He was not only not the greatest prophet, he was not even one at all contrary to Maimonides’ claim. He was the greatest political leader. However, a great political leader does not a prophet make.

Moses’ older sister was the prophet. Moses recognizes and acknowledges this. (Exodus 15:20) He does not refer to himself as one. Dubbing Moses a prophet confuses the different leadership roles of politicians, prophets and priests. For one, Moses, like Jonah, was called by God to assume his role. He did so extremely reluctantly. Upon her mother’s suggestion, when only a child herself, Miriam decided to rescue her younger infant brother from the edict of death and float him down the Nile to be rescued by the Egyptian princess. It was as if she could foresee how, if raised among the Egyptian nobility, Moses could emerge with leadership skills that would allow him to rescue his people as she had rescued him. That is why, though named by his father, Chaver (father), and called Avigdor by his grandfather, he would henceforth be known by the name given to him by the Pharoah’s daughter, “he who is drawn out”. At the same time, Miriam was clever enough to ensure Moses was instilled with loyalty to his people by convincing the princess to hire Yocheved, his natural mother, as his wet nurse.

Aaron, though also chosen by God for the position of High Priest, in contrast to the selection of his younger brother, Moses, exhibited no reluctance to serve. However, unlike Moses, he was not trained on the job but isolated and given a specific course of detailed instructions in priestly practices. That position was to be continued as part of a dynamic succession rather than by self selection or a call in spite of one’s own desires or self-conception. Miriam would have no part in choosing the prophets that succeeded her. Moses was able to choose his disciple, Joshua, as a successor. Aaron passed on his role through inheritance to his son, Eleazar.

Prophets, politicians and priests not only differ in the way they are selected and how their successors are chosen, they differ in how they exercise their leadership. A politician who thinks the office makes the President (or the Prime Minister) is suffering from a deep and severe delusion. His or her personal authority makes the office. A political leader accumulates and dispenses personal authority, one which is tremendously enhanced when he believes that God is behind him. When Moses leads the Israelite males and sings to the Lord his praises for their deliverance from the Egyptians, he sings as an “I”. (Exodus 15:1) When Miriam sings, she does so in the name of “We”. She was a prophet of and amid the people. Moses was an elitist who delegated power.

A priest has no personal authority at all. He is only an expression of his office and derives his influence from the formal authority granted to that office. In contrast, a prophet or prophetess has neither formal authority nor personal charisma but exercises his or her persuasive power by means of her authentic authority. She has neither coercive power nor the power of high office to give her legitimacy.

Moses needed the early practical training as distinct from a training in practices and procedures. However, without the requisite prudence and the forty years in the wilderness tending sheep to learn what was required to be a shepherd of his people, he would not have been the success he was for he began his active adult life as a very rash and volatile young man. A politician is a legislator. He appoints judges to administer and interpret the law. But it is the law, and not he, which must rule, a law certainly backed by coercive power, but coercive power that backs the rule of law and does not undermine it. A prophet or prophetess operates only through persuasion and not through legislation, persuasion even about how a law itself or an edict or even a leader may have exceeded the bounds of fairness. A priest operates through repetition and making sure the second order rules which maintain the structure of the social system are adhered to with precision and exactitude. That is why, from their very different perspectives, both Miriam and Aaron revolted against Moses and suggested that his power had gone to his head, as much as God may have backed him up, for God continually had to learn to limit His exercise of His power.  

Miriam in a Greek world would have been dubbed a goddess of water. Though she was not a goddess, she was the source for divining water in the desert, a source that dried up when Miriam died in Zin in the last year the Israelites were forced to wander in the wilderness. She was an original not to be duplicated. But even her water, so important for cleansing and purification, had its limits as chapter 19 makes clear. Sprinkling water on someone who could not be cleansed of a ritual sin was useless. But when the water was not forthcoming from the rocks after she died, the commonwealth of Israel once again turned against the leadership of Moses and Aaron (20:2) moaning that Moses had led them only to allow them and their cattle to die in the barren wilderness.

Moses fell on his knees and begged God to intervene. God instructed Moses and Aaron to assemble the people with their rods and speak to the rock to ask it to give forth water. (20:8) But instead of speaking, Moses smote the rock with his rod, not once but twice.  (20:11) Water finally gushed forth. But God reprimanded both Moses and Aaron for not doing precisely what they were told. Sometimes, a politician’s skills at improvisation and creativity are crucial, but not when commanded by God to do precisely one thing, something which Aaron understood, but the latter allowed himself to play second fiddle to his brother at precisely the time when detailed obeisance was required. Moses was punished for his actions and Aaron for his inaction in not following a precise protocol and procedure when God gave a direct order. Aaron would die five months after Miriam passed away. Prophets could be original and spontaneous. Politicians had to improvise with prudence while priests ensure the rituals that are the prerequisites in order for a society to enact laws, determine policies and carry out actions are followed in meticulous detail.

Miriam was buried in an anonymous place in Kodesh. She is honoured in name only. Aaron died on Mount Hor. Chapter 20, verses 25-29 read: “25 Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up unto mount Hor. 26 And strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there.’ 27 And Moses did as the LORD commanded; and they went up into mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. 28 And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there in the top of the mount; and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mount. 29 And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they wept for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.” 

The respect for Aaron and his infamous compassion (andrachamim) was expressed in the long period of mourning. In comparison, Miriam had been known for her personal kindness (chesed) and Moses for his righteousness (tzedek). As I explained in an earlier blog, Miriam largely disappeared from the story until the challenge over Moses’ Cushite wife. Miriam, along with Aaron, had not challenged Moses because, as many commentators suggest, he married a dark-skinned woman, a Cush, as if they were both racists. Rather, Miriam was concerned with the hurt and neglect Moses had caused his wife as he dedicated everything to his political cause. The different roles require very different strengths of character which receive, in turn, very different responses; Miriam’s deepest essence was to be considerate of others even if it meant going against a furious, vindictive and punitive God. And the people of Israel remained loyal to her because she always remained among them even as Moses and Aaron rose up to their exalted positions.

For a prophet is a visionary while a politician has to be pragmatic and a priest must exhibit the greatest purity. That is why it is Miriam who has to remind her two brothers that leadership requires and embraces different voices and why God, the defender and expression of the singular commanding voice, punishes her so harshly because He mistakenly believes that His form of leadership can be replicated in human society. That is why each of the three leaders expresses his or herself so differently, Miriam through music, dance and drama, Moses in what he writes and Aaron through his long silences and articulate interventions. For each operates in a different temporal dimension, the prophet as an articulation of eternal time expressed through constant change. A politician like Moses lives in historical time while a priest lives in obeisance to repetitive cycles – the week, the year. Though God spoke directly to Moses and confronted Moses face-to-face, God spoke to Miriam through visions and dreams. It was Miriam who led the women of Israel in song and dance using timbrels to celebrate the Israeli escape from their Egyptian pursuers. (Exodus 15:20-21) “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; Horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” As it is written in Jeremiah (31:4), when Israel once again marches forth out into the world, Israelis will go forth with drums, dances and merrymakers rather than swords and guns.

My daughter, Rachel, wrote a poem entitled, “The Song of Miriam’s Well” with a prefatory credit to T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland.

Through the wasteland, I traveled with them.

So there was rock and also water.

A spring, a stone that rolled,

Where no moss grows.

The sound of water and cicada,

And the dry grass singing.

When the Clouds of Glory settled,

I lay on my side,

And dug myself deep into the desert sand.

Date palms sprung up around me,

To shade the noblemen with their buckets,

Singing:

            “Rise up, O well, (And in chorus, they’d answer)

            Ali be’er.

            The well our forefathers dug

            Maces, staffs, striking the flint face.”[1]

And like a beehive, spewing swarms of bees,

I would spout water for their dry mouths.[2]

They knew how to suckle on rock,

Honey cakes and oil from the flinty stone.[3]

 

But when my mistress died…

Miriam, who sang at the Nile,

Not knowing if her brother, among the Reeds, was to live or die,

Miriam, who sang at the Reed Sea,

When we emerged alive out of water, this time.

Well, I could sing water no more.

They came with their buckets in the Wilderness of Tzin,

Saying Kaddish for her, named of bitterness,

Miriam, mayim marim.[4]

Stone-faced, I could not even cry.

What does it take to weep sweet water?

This time Moshe’s staff struck twice

And yet no drop.

 

Now, you are leaving the desert behind.

You are thirsty, your people crying for water.

But I have no mind to roll on with you.

A new water-out-of-rock must be found.

Be the overflowing spring,

Or a cistern that doesn’t lose a drop.[5]

Be the one who digs deep into desert sand.

Be water-out-of-rock.

 

In Albert Hirschman’s terms, Miriam was the exemplification of loyalty, both in what she gave and what was returned to her in turn by the Israelites. In contrast, as I wrote above, Moses was the exemplification of the exit and not the entry; though he led, he lacked a fluent tongue. Instead, his older brother, Aaron made up for Moses’ speech impediment with his soft and sensitive voice. Together, the three made up one of the greatest leadership teams in history.


[1]Num. 21:17

[2] An image based on Midrash Tanhuma Parashat Hukat (9).

[3]   From Deut. 32:13, the image is based on a midrash in TB Sotah 11b.

[4] She is named for the verse in Ex. 1:14, “for the Egyptians had embittered their lives “.וימררו  את חייהם

[5] Based on Pirkei Avot 2:8.

 

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman Conversation – Instalment 1: An Overview and the Introduction – Mots Justes & petites idées

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman

Conversation – Instalment 1: An Overview and the Introduction

Mots Justes & petites idées

 

by

 

Howard Adelman

 

The only critical review of Jeremy’s biography of the many that have come my way is by Robert Kuttner. I have sent it out as a separate attachment. Though Kuttner loved the book, he had four main criticisms, all having to do with the second half, the intellectual biography. The criticisms are:

1) Style – too slow going and bogged down in detail so the forest of Hirschman is sometimes lost in the details;

2) The chapter on Latin America “is one of the weaker parts of the book” because Jeremy became bogged down in the detail of Hirschman’s endless trips, and because a) his “discussion of Hirschman’s intellectual debate with other development theorists is somewhat murky” and (b) he neglected “to address how Hirschman’s views have stood the test of time;”

3) Jeremy’s emphasis on Exit, Voice, and Loyalty as a “hyphen linking an ‘early’ Hirschman concerned with economic development in Latin America to a ‘later’ Hirschman working from a broadened intellectual palette” “leaves out the formative Hirschman—the voracious student of political classics, resistance fighter, and refugee scholar who unmistakably makes a reappearance in the later philosophical works.”

4) He critiques Jeremy’s take on The Passions and the Interests – arguing that Hirschman sided with Enlightenment political philosophers who “hoped that passions, explosive and nonnegotiable, could be tamed into interests available for brokering and compromise.”

 

Is Kuttner correct in his critique?

 

I will deal with his comments on the Latin American chapter when we get to it. The same goes for The Passions and the Interests and in what sense Hirschman was an Enlightenment philosopher balancing passions and rational self-interest. The subject matter does change as a matter of course, but I did not find the style or pace did. The criticism of style is, in my mind, the critique of an intellectual journalist versus an historian who demands that evidence be put out on which to base conclusions rather than indulging in interpretations based on inadequate empirical research and the insertion of subjective beliefs in place of empirical reasoning. On the style, I think that Kuttner is just dead wrong. The book reads wonderfully. When Jeremy calls Exit, Voice, and Loyalty a “hyphen linking an ‘early’ Hirschman concerned with economic development in Latin America to a ‘later’ Hirschman working from a broadened intellectual palette,” he adopts Hirschman’s own emphasis on “linkages” rather than a large scale integration of the broad scale of the life as lived with the later intellectual development instead of the usual all-encompassing integration so characteristic of most historians.

 

To get a deeper understanding of that linkage, let me fall into the inevitable trap of discussing the themes of “Exit, Voice and Loyalty” for all three themes come up in the introduction. My emphasis will be on Voice but let me first deal with Exit and Loyalty.  The book is called an odyssey, but it is an odyssey made up of many exits, from one language to another, from one country to another, from one war to another, from one institution to another. The real story begins with a major exit, from Germany as the Weimar Republic is abandoned as a spate of anti-Semitic violence sweeps through Berlin as Hitler takes power, from his father as Carl Hirschmann is lowered into his grave after being stricken by a brain tumour from which surgery could not save him, and then Albert himself as a militant anti-Nazi student at the University of Berlin at the age of seventeen flees from the new wave of intolerance and persecution for the safety of Paris. 

 

While he leaves, he remains loyal to his overbearing all-too-bourgeois mother, but especially his sister Ursula and his younger sister, Eva. But it is loyalty without nostalgia ready for new beginnings. As Jeremy portrays Albert, he possesses the Nietzschean ability to reinvent himself and to do so by living outside any single cultural tradition or intellectual genre, not by cutting any of them off, including his own weakly rooted Jewish heritage, but to artfully combine them, though all he inherited from his Jewish past was a kinship with a certain sense of humour, a critical mindset and a predisposition for compassion.

 

In chapter 25 of The Prince, Machiavelli insisted that fortune only rules one half of a man`s fate. The other half was determined by will, or what AH termed choice. Fortune was simply a challenge to figure out artful ways to wriggle out of a convoluted, contradictory or bad situation. The complement to fortune was not fate but virtus, strength of character. AH remained loyal to hope and what he called possibilism in contrast to the catastrophism depicted by Hannah Arendt in her introduction to The Human Condition. He always remained steadfastly opposed to any kind of predictivism that he saw as really having its roots in the magic of astrology and the ability to come up with a mathematical formula to predict the future. Fortune was the situation that confronted you not the determination of your fate.

 

The way to become master of your fate required developing your voice. That voice is developed by attending to anomalies, what I have called incongruencies. If we are simply mesmerized by the myths we are fed and the images projected on the cave wall, then we cannot free ourselves from being tied to a log and facing only one way. But if we can shift and slide and see something from different angles so that it reveals its contradictions, then we need not depend on others to free ourselves or depend on the god of Reason delivering an all encompassing revelation that can provide us with certainty.

 

That is why literature is so important. For good literature “summons the power of small details and anomalies to uncover something new about the whole.” Contrast this with Plato`s myth of the cave which was just a narrative way of representing the geometric formulation of his famous divided line in which reason: understanding = true opinion: false consciousness = critical thought: belief. The two parts of the divided line, each divided by the same ratio meant also that understanding was equivalent in value to true opinion of the experienced artisan except only that the former was closer to reason. Thus 4:2 = 2:1 = 6:3. Reason: understanding = true opinion: mythological opinion = Truth: Opinion, and understanding and true opinion have the same value in the degree of truth they possessed. With all his studies of statistics and correlations and innovations in understanding the influences on and relations of trade to prosperity, AH could find no way to represent thought and its creative parts through a mathematical formula, even one so simple as the mathematics of ratios.

 

If Plato insisted that one had to know geometry to enter through the archway into his academy, Aristotle shared a greater kinship with Hirschman with his love of equivocation and exploring the multiple and often contradictory meanings of the same term. So AH was in love with vivid metaphors, memorable images and poetic phrases. True to his subject, Jeremy pursues the anomalies, surprises and power of unintended effects as he explores the life of AH to elicit the spirit of the man and how that spirit was influence by and shaped in turn the spirit of different times. Hence, the appropriate emphasis on the mots justes and petites idées.

 

Let me introduce one mots justes drawn from Jewish folk culture and not the greats of European literature. The word is “yekke” and the puzzle I want to pose is why Albert Hirschman was not much more of a yekke. He was always a yekke in his sartorial attention to the well crafted suit and to his famous punctuality. Certainly he was the epitome of the best values of the yekke  –  good citizenship, reliability, meticulousness, cleanliness, orderliness, courtesy, consideration and, most of all, cultural and intellectual creativity. But Jews from other regions often use yekke in a more derogatory sense to refer to the condescension and sense of cultural superiority of German Jews, best exemplified by AH`s social climbing mother and striving for social status. Yekke in its negative sense also suggests inflexibility, a characteristic that cannot be pinned on AH.  In contrast, Micha Limor, the editor of Yakinton, the Israeli Yekke newspaper, proved that inflexibility when, after the publication of the Goldstone Report on Gaza, described Goldstone as a perfect replica of a Yekke with a clean conscience, uncompromising integrity, tenacity in dealing with bureaucracy, comprehension of reality and precision of language. Limor was not being ironic and refused to retract or amend his comments in response to all the criticism and evidence to the contrary. AH was not a Yekke like Limor.

 

Further, the Yekke is said to be obsessed with questions like, “Warum? Warum ist die Banane krumm? Why is the banana crooked?” Though there is a scientific answer related to its chemical constitution which makes the banana bend to catch as much of the sun as possible, the reference suggests stupid and unanswerable questions. AH was the epitome of asking sensible, answerable but often overlooked questions. AH seemed to embody the best traits of the Yekke while leaving behind the worst characteristics. Jeremy`s answer is that AH managed to hang onto the best of his German culture, weave it into the impoverished residue of his Jewish culture and then to artfully combine it with the best of Italian (Machiavelli), French (Montesquieu, Montaigne, and Foucauld), English or rather Sottish (Adam Smith) and even American pragmatic culture.