Exclusive interview with Professor Robert Jervis
Robert Jervis (born 1940) is the Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics in the Department of Political Science at Columbia University, and is a member of the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies in the School of International and Public Affairs. He has been a member of the faculty since 1980. Jervis was the recipient of the 1990 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. Jervis is co-editor of the Cornell Studies in Security Affairs, a series published by Cornell University Press, and the member of numerous editorial review boards for scholarly journals.
Robert Jervis was born in 1940. He holds a B.A. from Oberlin College (1962) and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley (1968). From 1968 to 1972, he was an assistant professor of government at Harvard University, and was an associate professor from 1972 to 1974. From 1974 to 1980, he was a professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles. He served as the President of the American Political Science Association. He is the father of Lisa Jervis, who co-founded Bitch magazine.
He has worked on perceptions and misperceptions in foreign policy decision making. While Jervis is perhaps best known for two books in his early career, he also wrote System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life (Princeton, 1997). With System Effects, Jervis established himself as a social scientist as well as an expert in international politics. Many of his latest writings are about the Bush doctrine, of which he is very critical.
Jervis is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2006 he was awarded the NAS Award for Behavior Research Relevant to the Prevention of Nuclear War from the National Academy of Sciences. He participated in the 2010 Hertog Global Strategy Initiative, a high-level research program on nuclear proliferation. Below is the text of the interview of Asre Andisheh with Prof. Robert Jervis.
Liberalism has ignored the issue of identity, believing that identity is not an important issue in politics, but rather a matter of economic welfare policy for citizens, and if governments can resolve people's economic welfare, then the problem of identity is not matter. What is your assessment of this?
I think this essentially correct. Liberalism, at least in most of its forms, says little about identity and while it favors national self-determination, believes that with prosperity nine forms of nationalism and preoccupation with identity will not arise. John Mearsheimer’s recent book, Liberal Illusions, has a good discussion of how liberalism under-estimates nationalism.
Francis Fukuyama, best known as the author of The End of History and the Last Man, now says that identity movements have threatened the liberal democracy system in the world. This theory holds: Although the phenomenon of “identity politics” first emerged in the Left, it was more powerful on the right than can be seen in Donald Trump's election and British exit from the European Union. Why Fukuyama is worried about Trump and Brexit’s emergence and views them as damaging to liberal democracy? Indeed, why is Fukuyama worried about liberal democracy being harmed by identity politics?
Fukuyama and many others believe that excessive concern for identity leads to “tribal politics” which undermines tolerance and a focus on individual freedoms. These attitudes also hinder international cooperation.
Fukuyama seeks to address the shortcomings and failures of liberal democracy. For example, liberal institutions such as NATO do not have a good status and Trump does not value it such as World Trade Organization. Why is Liberal Democracy not working properly and having a crisis?
Neither Fukuyama nor anyone else has a completely convincing answer to this question. Part of the picture is the increased economic inequality in many countries. This is compounded by the feeling of those who have not done well at they are not respected by the elites, experts, and those in charge of the national government.
Is liberal democracy able to address the issue of identity politics and consequently identity movements?
A: Many commentators are pessimistic about the future of liberal democracy for this reason. I am more optimistic and think that with good leadership many of the current problems can be overcome. Good leaders seem to be in short supply, however.
Not long ago, Fukuyama, in an interview with New Statesman, revisited the hypothesis of "The End of History and the Last Man" because of some of the weaknesses of liberal democracy, such as a weakness in the creation of a common identity, the world needed socialism to return. Is Fukuyama's talk about the return of socialism?
I haven’t read this interview but would be surprised to see a return to socialism, at least in its traditional form, of strong central control of the economy.
What is your solution to the issue of identity politics and issues such as nationalist movements and extremism, and so on?
Like many other liberals, I think that a good part of the solution is to reduce economic inequality, to have a stronger safety net for society, and to reinvigorate democratic processes.