Achieving America’s Peace: A Conversation with Angelo Codevilla


Angelo Codevilla comes to Liberty Law Talk to discuss his latest book To Make and Keep Peace Among Ourselves and with All Nations. Our conversation focuses on Codevilla’s main argument that American statesmen increasingly fail to understand the nature and purpose of statecraft: the achievement of peace. So what does it mean to achieve America’s peace? To do so, Codevilla insists, requires concrete evaluation of the means and ends necessary to protect American interests. This requires particular judgments about power, interests, and the practial reality we are confronted with. Our practice, for well nigh a century, has been to speak in glittering generalities about America’s role in the world as a force for democratic and humanitarian progress, refusing to recognize the unwieldy consequences that result from applying abstract ideals in a Hobbesian environment. The refusal to be frank about how military victory must be used to achieve a peace on American terms not only produces unending conflicts with no clear idea of victory, but also leads to deep reverberations in domestic politics as coalitions form around perceived patriotic and traitorous courses of action. Post 9/11 politics, anyone?

We also explore what Codevilla perceives as the failures of our major schools of foreign policy. The neoconservative believes that an aggressive America must give a shove to the forces of global democratic progress, while the internationalist has a similar end in view but wants to secure it by reducing American power in the world, harnessing and moralizing our power and interests through an array of multilateral institutions and treaties.  In a different vein, the realist assumes that all nations have the same kinds of interests and pursue the same goals regardless of the ideological cast of regimes and governments. All three approaches have been tried repeatedly, but, Codevilla argues, America’s interests have not been secured. Even though our nation wins its battles and wars, we lose our peace. Where then to look for wisdom in the practice of successful statecraft? That is where the conversation begins.

David McCulloch’s 1776

Recently, I read McCulloch’s book on the first year of the Revolutionary War and I wanted to recommend it to readers.

The book is interesting throughout, with some unexpected discussions such as that of the debate in Parliament about whether to engage in war with the colonials. The book focuses on three principal events – the siege of Boston, the New York City conflict, and the New Jersey campaign.

While the book is called 1776, it is really focused on George Washington’s 1776. It describes how Washington’s army secured a limited victory in Boston (despite Washington’s desire to pursue a different strategy that probably would have been a disaster). It shows how Washington blundered in New York – both at Brooklyn Heights and Washington Heights – and nearly lost not only his army but the support of some of his principal officers. And then it concludes with Washington’s victories at Trenton and Princeton.

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President Taft on “the Danger of a Third Presidential Term.”

After serving two terms in office, with some reluctance, President Theodore Roosevelt decided not to run for an unprecedented third term, keeping with the tradition started by George Washington. Though, that decision was not an easy one. He stepped aside for two main reasons: first, he had (begrudgingly) made a pledge not to run for a third term, and second, he personally selected William Howard Taft, his longtime friend and confidant, as his successor with the understanding that Taft would continue his progressive policies. Even until the Republican Convention, Teddy considered throwing his hat into the ring, but stood by his pledge.

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Publius and the NSA Surveillance Program

Editor’s Note: This is the first of two posts that will offer contrasting opinions on the NSA electronic surveillance programs. Angelo Codevilla’s essay will appear tomorrow.

On July 24th, 2013, the United States House of Representatives defeated an amendment to the Defense Department’s Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2014 that called for greater restrictions on the National Security Agency’s ability to gather electronic information, including phone records of American citizens. Ninety-four Republicans and 111 House Democrats voted in favor of the amendment, while 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats voted against it. The amendment’s sponsors shared very little in common, other than the fact that they are both from Michigan. Republican Justin Amash, a devotee of free markets and limited government, joined forces with John Conyers, a perennial opponent of American foreign and defense policy since he was first elected to Congress in 1964.

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Are We Egyptians?

No Denial: Once Americans, now Egyptians

Was the anti-Morsi coup in Egypt justified on liberal and democratic grounds? The distinguished legal scholars Ilya Somin and Michael Rappaport agree that democracy cannot be defended on the ground of majority rule alone, and I add my voice to theirs but for different reasons. In making their respective critiques of Morsi, Rappaport emphasizes long-run majoritarianism and consensus; Somin the protection of classical liberal principles. Put them together and you get something close to the American founding but still not quite there. I would advance the arguments of Thomas Jefferson articulated in his First Inaugural Address that is crucial for understanding Egypt and, more important, our own democracy.

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Ratifying the U.S. Constitution

The Writing and Ratification of the U.S. Constitution

This next edition of Liberty Law Talk is a discussion with John Vile about his new book, The Writing and Ratification of the U.S. Constitution: Practical Virtue in Action. Our discussion, chronologically and philosophically, retraces the dramatic story of the Founders’ Constitution. In four parts, we talk about the failing of the Articles of Confederation, the need to reground republican government on constraints and diffusions of power given the governing weaknesses of many state governments, arguments and contests among major and lesser known figures at the Philadelphia Convention, and the often overlooked state ratifying conventions where the Constitution had to prove itself to delegates highly critical of the new powers it assumed.

Lincoln’s Code of War

Lincoln's Code

The next edition of Liberty Law Talk is with professor and author John Fabian Witt on the subject of his new book Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History. Recently named by the New York Times to its 100 Notable Books’ List for 2012, Witt’s account of the laws of war in American history illustrates the tensions and conflicts that have followed from America’s intention since the Declaration of Independence to fight under the existing laws of war, appealing to them for protection, while also using them to advance American interests. Witt’s account moves through the War for Independence, The War of 1812, the Indian Wars, and the Mexican-American War before arriving at the centerpiece of the book, Lincoln’s Code.

The story behind Lincoln’s Code, the laws of war promulgated by Lincoln in 1863 (General Order No. 100) and followed by the Union Army, is fascinating and, Witt argues, was tied to the Emancipation Proclamation and the need to utilize the newly freed slaves on behalf of the Union effort. The code’s drafter, Francis Lieber, was a Prussian who fought against Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, came to America, taught at South Carolina College, and then moved to New York to teach at Columbia College’s nascent law school. Fascinated by war, Lieber’s code of war was central to the war effort of the Federal army. Readers and listeners can obviously judge for themselves if that was a good thing or a bad thing. General William Tecumseh Sherman’s famous March to the Sea does not appear to run afoul of the code. Lieber’s code was widely adopted by European nations in the late 19th century, and subsequently formed the basis for the multilateral treaties on the conduct of war-making in the 20th century.

To Secure the Blessings of Liberty

In the Books section today Melanie Randolph Miller reviews Liberty Fund’s latest book, To Secure the Blessings of Liberty: Selected Writings of Gouverneur MorrisAsked by Miller in “The Ingenious Gouverneur Morris”:

Yet what sort of man was this revolutionary nay-sayer who had been, on the other side of the Atlantic, a significant actor in the American Revolutionary War effort and had played a vital role in the design of the American Constitution? . . . .

Morris has long been dismissed as a “lightweight” (the comment of a former editor of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson), a producer of “solipsisms”  (Jack Rakove) and “a flutterer upon the surface” (Richard Henry Lee, in 1780),  but anyone who takes the time to delve into this collection will soon realize the injustice of those  judgments.   To give a bit of background for those unfamiliar with him:  Morris (1752-1816) was born a member of the New York elite and trained as a lawyer.  When the Revolutionary War came, Morris put his considerable financial and verbal talents at the service of the New York revolutionary government and later the Continental Congress, where he served on a multitude of committees and, by his own observation, did the vast majority of their work.   In that capacity, he met George Washington and became one of his many devoted young protégés, along with Lafayette and Alexander Hamilton.   Washington respected Morris, and would remain his loyal friend.  Robert Morris, Superintendent of Finance during the war, also admired Gouverneur, hiring him as his assistant and, after the war, going into partnership with him.

Morris was no fool and was not blind to ideology’s capacity of turning minds into pieces of meat. On this point Miller observes that Morris who was an American Minister to France during the French Revolution quickly turned against the revolutionaries: Morris was introduced into the inner circle of revolutionary aristocrats, who were intrigued by the humorous one-legged American (he had lost a leg in a carriage accident in 1780).  However, Morris’s consistently disapproving advice and bleak (and remarkably accurate) predictions about the likely course of the French Revolution led to an estrangement from many, including Lafayette and Jefferson.

On the prospect of the New York state legislature issuing paper currency, Morris was again no fool:

 The various opinions entertained, propagated and supported relative to your Paper Currency, differ so widely that they cannot all be right.  Perhaps not one of them is strictly or entirely so.  Unfortunately it happens on such occasions, and indeed on too many others, that mankind reason from their prejudices, their circumstances, and their interests.  Thus in the most important affairs, like grown persons at the dancing school, we have much to unlearn, as well as to learn, before we can think and move with ease and grace.  We must cast off our prejudices, rise above our circumstances, and divest ourselves of a pitiful regard to our interest whether pecuniary or political.  Hard task, indeed!

Similarly, on the structure of power and rights in the French Constitution of 1791, Morris pronounced that it was “ridiculous.” Miller observes that he rejected “as unworkable the concept of “natural rights” so dear to many political philosophers, he turned instead to what he considered the meaningful rights: “political liberty” (the right to have a part in government) and “civil liberty” (the right to be left alone, including security in property).  Civil liberty, in Morris’s view, was the most important because without it political liberty would not survive; and obtaining a workable balance was the principal goal of government design.”

Gouverneur Morris was balanced, polished, and prudent. I advise reading Miller’s review in its entirety and then buy the book.

Thanksgiving Roundup

  • A bondholder Thanksgiving: Garett Jones at Econ Log asks “When the federal government bought shares in the biggest banks, who benefited most: Shareholders or bondholders?  According to co-blogger Luigi Zingales and U Chicago professor Pietro Veronesi, the answer is clear: bondholders. They estimate the total benefit to banks at $131 billion . . . .
  • The Fifth Annual  Rosenkranz Debate was held last Saturday during The Federalist Society’s 2012 National Lawyers Convention.  The topic was “Natural Law Should Inform Constitutional Law” The advocates were Prof. Hadley P. Arkes (Edward N. Ney Professor in American Institutions, Amherst College) and Judge Alex Kozinski (Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit).  Enjoy! I am told the turnout was even larger than last year’s great Obamacare debate between Paul Clement and Larry Tribe.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th. day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war . . . – for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted;– for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed . . . – and, in general, for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us . . . .

The year that is drawing toward its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watching providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union . . . .

George Washington’s Republicanism

The U.S. Constitution mandates that the executive branch will seek the “advice and consent” of the Senate to treaties with foreign powers. Thus, George Washington as President once determined to “advise and consult” with the Senate on a treaty matter involving negotiations with Indian tribes. Accompanied by his secretary of war, Henry Knox, the president presented himself before the Senate while the clerk read out the main points that concerned Washington – thus seeking a point-by-point constitutional “advice and consent.” Following this dramatic entrance, Washington was ushered out of the chamber and cooled his heels outside while what was later to become known as the “world’s greatest deliberative body” debated how to proceed.

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