A wee podcast on the last 50 - and next 50 - years of the global world order

The history of international politics since 1945. The role of values in the global economy. The future of America’s relationship with China. All three of these would be ambitious topics for a work of political economy. But combining them? That’s not for the faint of heart.  

However, that’s exactly what Sir Paul Tucker has done in his new book, “Global Discord: Values and Power in a Fractured World Order”. 

Tucker is a former central banker, and a current research fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. In this episode, Mark Blyth talks about the book with Paul and political economist Aditi Sahasrabudde. 

Learn more about and purchase “Global Discord: Values and Power in a Fractured World Order”

Watch Sir Paul Tucker’s recent talk at the Rhodes Center

Learn more about the Watson Institute’s other podcasts 


MARK BLYTH: From the Rhodes Center for International finance and economics at Brown University this is the Rhodes Center Podcast. I'm director of the Rhodes Center and your host Mark Blyth. The history of international politics since Nineteen Forty-Five, the role of values in the global economy, the future of America's relationship with China, all three of these would be ambitious topics for a work of political economy. But combining them, it's not for the faint of heart, is it?

However that's exactly what Sir Paul Tucker has done in his fantastic new book Global Discord, Values and Power in a Fractured World Order. Paul Tucker is a former central banker and a current research fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. On this episode, I talk about the book with Paul and with Aditi Sahasrabuddhe, a political economist who will soon be joining us here at Brown University.

Welcome, Paul. Welcome, Aditi.

ADITI SAHASRABUDDHE: Thank you. Hi. Nice to be here.

PAUL TUCKER: Thank you very much.

MARK BLYTH: Paul, you've been on the podcast before. It's great to have you back. You were here talking about your prior book, this one, Global Discord, Values and Power in a Fractured World Order. Equally big, equally big in scope, equally big in terms of the ideas you're pulling in. Just to give everyone a sort of a quick overview as to what this is, it's an original account of basically international politics after Nineteen Forty-Five.

It's about the institutions that constitute that world. But much more important, it's about the place of values in those institutions and in that international order. And then the policy twist at the end is a very direct and frank discussion about how the West should live with China. Now when people write about China in the West, they tend to go to Graham Allison as the default and do The Thucydides Trap.

You don't actually think that's a good analogy. I was struck by the fact that you think that what we are in, for the long haul, for the next 50 years or perhaps more, is that the West and China having a relationship akin to the United Kingdom and France in the 18th and 19th centuries. Can you unpack that a little?

PAUL TUCKER: Well, I'm really delighted that you picked on that, Mark. When people look at Graham's book on The Thucydides Trap, which is about Athens and Sparta of course, and they bring it up to date, they typically think of the second German Reich and Britain. And there's a lot of illumination from that, of course. But this was essentially a kind of struggle that was almost entirely to do with power, not especially to do with ideology. Or alternatively, I mean, Graham doesn't make this comparison, but other people do. They make comparison with the Cold War between the United States, the West, and the Soviet Union. And that for me doesn't work because, crucially, Stalin withdrew the Soviet Bloc from the IMF, the World Bank, the trade pact shortly after they were agreed, so during the late nineteen-forties, early nineteen-fifties.

And so the Cold War played out in the security sphere and importantly through proxy wars, deadly proxy wars, but not very much in commerce. There was a kind of tube between the Soviet Bloc and the West that covered oil in one direction and dollars in the other. Whereas the contest between China and the United States, the Western world, is everywhere and in everything, and it is ideological as well.

So first of all, everywhere and in everything, it's like-- it's like the French-British contest roughly from Sixteen Eighty-Nine to Eighteen Fifteen. It was in the United States where we're recording. It was off the coast of India, in Southeast Asia, in Africa, as well as, of course, in Europe. It was not just security and military. It was commercial as well. It lasted for ages. Because it lasted for ages, there were moments of accommodation. There was a moment in the 18th century where Britain and France agreed to a trade pact and then fell into another war and didn't recapture that moment until the eighteen-sixties.

But it was also ideological at the beginning of the 18th century, the problem that my country Britain had with France was that France, under Louis XIV, and successors aspired to universalist, absolutist monarchy. By the end of the 18th century, they were promoting universalist revolution. And Burke, the Irish British writer, thinker, parliamentarian said the problem isn't French power, it's that it's the wrong kind of power. And that's actually how the West feels about China.

The problem isn't with Chinese civilization. It's with the party, and the party's conception of itself, and of domestic governance, and of international governance. And that's how they feel about us.

MARK BLYTH: If I was listening to what you just said about sort of the inevitability of this long drawn out conflict, I'm an American IR theorist, at least in principle, at least some part of me is. Well, I have a cheerer now somewhere or something like that. But anyway, the point being, that's power, it's not about legitimacy. But you think it really is about legitimacy. In a sense, it's about a contest of different forms of legitimacy. So let's get into that. Why is international politics misunderstood that it's not just about power, it's also about legitimacy?

PAUL TUCKER: So power nearly always invokes the possibility of legitimacy. So hierarchical relationships can be coercive. They're always, in some degree, coercive. And the big question is whether those who are ruled over, whether they accept, after reflecting, the authority of those doing the ruling. And if not, there is excessive coercion. And so this is a kind of dynamic that moves between the ruled and the rulers. And that matters for the rulers because otherwise coercion is very inefficient from them.

If one just thinks about it in a very rationalist way, the rulers want some returns from ruling. Those returns are reduced for them if they wake up every day having to go and enforce their rule in completely brutal ways because they use what limited resources they have on sustaining their rule rather than reaping the returns from rules. So legitimation in some sociological sense is going on in any hierarchical relationship.

MARK BLYTH: Now that's domestic, Paul. I mean, I think that's domestic politics. IR in general would turn around and say, yeah, sure, that's domestic politics. But isn't the international system supposedly different? Isn't it sort of an anarchy, et cetera, et cetera, with different rules?

PAUL TUCKER: Well, norms, the plainly conventions exist in the international order. Borders are conventions. Borders coupled with a norm that if you intrude over my border in an aggressive way, that will count as a bad thing. And I am allowed, in the eyes of others, to respond equally aggressively. So international order, although I think actually is a product, an organic product of power, it is also suffused with conventions that arise out of the exercise of power.

And then there is a question, those conventions are many. I've just mentioned the most obvious one. Then the question about those conventions and norms is, well, whether I, as a rising state, or I as a poorer state or actually I as a powerful state who've got bored with protecting the rest of the world, whether I still accept those norms and conventions, or whether I'd like to change them in some way.

And the world, it can be unstable for other reasons, but the world isn't stable if great powers are starting to question and resile from the prevailing norms. And that's a question of legitimacy. The literature, on international legitimation, tends to be a bit orthogonal to the literature on domestic legitimation. And I don't think that's kind of sustainable actually. And I've tried to build some bridges.

ADITI SAHASRABUDDHE: I like the point, I like it, as in, I think it's interesting, obviously, not in principle, maybe a power sort of getting bored of upholding the order. So I was trying to think of an example of that. I see maybe the end of Bretton Woods, perhaps, which is the US thinking, I don't want to do this anymore. I'm going to go at my own way.

And so do you think there's something particular to that response maybe of the collapse of the Bretton Woods system, Nixon going off gold, that was done in a way that still offered some kind of other inducements that provided legitimacy? Or do you think that maybe for a while we were not in as big a differently position as maybe we are now where there's a lot more pushback over, you know, hegemonic power at the international level?

PAUL TUCKER: It's a very interesting question. I think it is quite a good example. I think there's an even better recent example from the United States. But yes, so when the Bretton Woods regime is unraveling, the Treasury Secretary John Connally, who'd been the governor of Texas and was in the limo, I think, with the president when he was assassinated. Connally says at one point, our friends in Europe are trying to screw us, our job is to screw them first.

And I write in the book, here's someone actually getting out of his depth. You don't make good policy if you're thinking that kind of thing. But I think what it does to your question is it illustrates, yeah, that slightly thinking that. And yet the reason he's out of his depth is that he hasn't internalized the fact that Europe is engaged in willing followership and constraining followership with the United States. And of course, Europe is quite rich enough, even by the nineteen-seventies, to stand on its own as a hard superpower again.

But no one in Europe sensibly sees that in their interests or the world's interests and sanely nor did the US. And actually, it all came to a happy ending. I think the better example-- I think your example is good, a better example is the United States, a few years ago, more obviously under Trump, and you can give two examples of that, a trivial one is avert support for Brexit. And whatever one I'm going to be neutral on the substance of Brexit. But that's Beijing's script because Beijing's approach to Europe and the EU is divide and rule and to have bilateral relationships rather than a relationship with the EU.

And so, in a sense, there's a kind of chaotic withdrawal where President Trump, in fact, does a very good job of raising the potential risks faced by China but is also trying to withdraw from Europe and hasn't seen that that's opening a door to China. But before that, President Obama, the pivot, the metaphor of the pivot is an unfortunate metaphor because a pivot moves from one thing to another. So if I'm pivoting to Asia, I must be moving away from something.

And the point about a hegemon is, I mean, the burden of being the hegemon, it's got some advantages of course, as well, but the burden is that you have to be alert to everything all the time. You can't lose interest in the Middle East. You can't lose interest in Central Asia. You can't lose interest in Europe. And the Truman administration, by the way, were really sharp on this. They inherited, from the Roosevelt administration, a policy of British empire should withdraw from everywhere.

That's completely understandable for all sorts of reasons, including moral reasons. And then there are memos in the State Department under Truman where people say, well, actually, we've got them to withdraw, and we're not ready to fill the vacuum, and somebody else is, Stalin's Moscow. But more concretely, whether it's junking the Kyoto-Paris treaties or withdrawing from some other treaties, the US, for a while, was flirting with we don't want to play this hegemon game anymore as though the United States could just give that up and the world would carry on in a way that was convenient to the United States. That's just not true.

MARK BLYTH: So that makes me think of Charlie Kindleberger's old book, the legitimacy is also tied up with leadership. And if that's the case, and we can just take Charlie's straightforward, version of this that the United States provides a public good of international financial stability, and that's a leadership function, right? But if it's really about leadership, there is a question of who wants to be led by whom.

So if the EU is 40% the world's capitalist space and 30% of the world's consumption, I think, it's someone like that, and the US is another 20%, half the world clearly doesn't want to be led by a Leninist party. So if legitimacy is as central as you say to how world orders are constructed and deconstructed, I suppose, does Beijing really have a chance? What exactly is the source of legitimacy?

PAUL TUCKER: That's a marvelously challenging question. Well, it could arise by mistakes in the West. I have no party of preference in my own country, let alone this one but you can see circumstances in which political stability could unravel. I think this goes to another debate which is, should we be constraining the growth of China here. I think that's completely the wrong way of thinking about it. First of all, because actually we won't be able to in any meaningful way.

But we should avoid overdependence to China, just as they will want to avoid overdependence on us. That's all about avoiding mistakes, avoiding mistakes where you get up in the morning and the world has taken a very nasty turn, and you say, oh, whoops I wish we hadn't been so dependent upon x, y, z for the following. But if you do make those mistakes, then you can imagine circumstances in which China becomes a source of stability for countries that are worried about stability. This is why it's had some success in Africa, and some success in Latin America, and a bit of success in parts of East and Central Europe.

MARK BLYTH: So when you were at the talk today, one of your interlocutors Jeff Cogan asked what do you really mean by order? And he had a particular way of phrasing this, which was basically, I think what he was going to was, do you mean an international order qua bunch of institutions that hang together and constitute in order? Or is it in a sense the background conditions of power, et cetera?

And I would say another way you could say it is, is it the case that, for you, order is basically volatility suppression, that ultimately what the West can do is provide, via legitimacy, a calmer world and what China can do is also provide a calmer world? They're both of wall suppressants, but they have very different complexion. And that's why choice comes into it. Would that be a useful way of thinking about it?

PAUL TUCKER: Yes. Except that I would say extreme volatility compression rather than just volatility compression. I don't think a hegemon or the concert of Europe in the 19th century should get up in the morning and say, well, we won't have any volatility today. Right? Well, the kind of thing that the Federal Reserve has been doing in financial markets is a bad thing because all volatility.

MARK BLYTH: Precisely the cause of that exactly, right?

PAUL TUCKER: Exactly. Exactly. You know, not good policy. But extreme disorder among states, which of course is manifested in war, and slaughter, and famine, and mass migration, and fear, and fear, it matters, so there's an element of Judith Clarke coming in there, matters enormously. And so I think of order as organic. So what international relations people or many of them refer to as order, I want to split into order and system.

So order is organic and is basically a product of power and the dispositions of those that hold power, which can lead to a balance of power as in the concert of Europe or the 18th century balance of power, perhaps better illustration, or American hegemony. And then what is done underneath that umbrella is designed in our time, the IMF, the Basel Accord, the treaty on the Law of the Sea, the treaty on trade, these are designed institutions.

And of course, they feed back into the order because they elaborate on some of the conventions in the order. But the really big things are organic, I think. And I think where the realists, I'd like to call them realists in quotes, are right is that power matters. And you can design as much as you like. But you can't design your way out of power. So something I don't put this in the book about constructivist, we say everything is constructed. If you're not going to do this, Mark, because you and I are friends and you're a nice person even if we weren't friends, if you hit me in the face very hard now, the pain I feel is not constructed.

MARK BLYTH: That's certainly the case.

PAUL TUCKER: And if I went around fearing people hitting me in the face because there was no order when I leave the campus, later, that's not constructed. That would be visceral. So some things definitely are constructed for goodness sake. Lots of things are. But some things are more elemental than that. And we don't have to kind of put all this in boxes.

MARK BLYTH: Well, that's the thing. I want to bring us back to IR theory because I want people who do IR theory to read the book and engage with it because I think it pushes it forward in ways that IR theorists themselves basically aren't capable of because they're trained in a particular tradition, whereas you're coming from the angle if you will, of legitimacy and political philosophy, which is a very different set of traditions to be thinking about these questions.

So when you get to chapter 5 of the book, it's quite apparent that you've read tons of American and British IR theory and you engage with realism, et cetera, you engage with game theory, you engage with the cooperation literature and so-called international institutions, et cetera. But ultimately, you find it lacking, you don't really think that sort of they'd, in a sense, done it right, what's missing in that?

Because, ultimately, your own preferred micro-mechanisms are game theoretic, and are also conventional, and also arise organically and spontaneously and evolutionary? There's a whole bunch of stuff there, whether it's drawn from Griff or North or others, the IR theories are aware of and have indeed incorporated, you want to push it in a slightly different direction.

PAUL TUCKER: You're right. So the way to think about both coordinating situations and cooperation situations is that, often, there will be multiple equilibria. And so we have to choose amongst them. And sometimes what helps us choose is path dependent, its history. One thing that people that have won the Nobel Prize for economics over the past 20 years for game theoretical type things, the mechanism design people like Roger Myerson. They. would say, well, actually the way we solve some of these, whether we select amongst multiple equilibria, is history dependent.

And some of these things are cultural. And some of them are internalized as norms. And some of those norms we regard as values. There's two things going on here partly. And this is something that David Hume is richer, I think, than Thomas Hobbes. And it's about games embedded in games embedded in the game of life or the true game as some people would call it,

So Aditi and I are involved in some, say, prisoner's dilemma situation. And the inevitability of game theory, we end up in the suboptimal cell. And now, I make a promise to Aditi that I'll cooperate this time.

MARK BLYTH: I won't do this this time. Right.

ADITI SAHASRABUDDHE: And the Hobbesian, and I mean, the Hobbesian rather than Hobbes probably, but the Hobbesian says, well, what difference does that make? You've just relocated the problem to break his promise. Now imagine the thing we're trying to cooperate or not on has no material externalities whatsoever, no one else cares. But the promising is not like that. Promising as a social institution.

You, Mark Blyth, and the person recording our podcast, they say, well, Tucker's the kind of person that breaks promises. That's no good. I don't care about the thing he wanted to do with Aditi, I don't care about that. I do care that Tucker breaks promises. And Hume in Book III of the Treatise tells a story about promising and of actually about property, whether these are conventions but conventions we internalize. And certainly, promising operates as a higher level norm.

So roll forward 250 odd years to the mechanism design economists, they say, well, games institutions are embedded in higher level games. And many things, we rely on enforcement from a higher authority. When you and I play chess, if we were to, I mean, what stops me stealing your pieces? Well, some norm that I should obey the rules of chess. Most game theory just assumes I'll play by the rules of the game in the game. But eventually, you have to reach something, a level that is self-enforcing, and it will only self-enforce by norms.

So we've got from rationalist, it's only interests, maybe not be selfish interests but interests that matter, to something where norms matter too because norms that I've internalized help these lower level games. And so in a sense, I'm not rejecting the role of rationalist game theory, I'm saying, you know, actually, we can enrich the way that's used rather than the kind of one-level game theory that tends to prevail.

MARK BLYTH: But that's also why it matters that, in a sense, one is the West and one can identify with being the West or one can reject being the West because those norms are themselves reciprocated in values, which are basically the instantiation, if you will, of those real preferences in the game of life.

PAUL TUCKER: Yes. Yes, that's exactly right. So an overblown way of saying what I'm trying to do, and I'm not-- I'm trying to do it, I'm not claiming I've succeeded, is I'm trying to reunite David Hume political economist, social scientist, with David Hume political philosopher. And actually, interestingly, economists are now working on things like culture and so on. And I think they will eventually bump into normativity, which is, well, why ought we to give value to these.

MARK BLYTH: The conditional and the subjunctive are always the toughest one for rationalists.

PAUL TUCKER: Yes, yes.

ADITI SAHASRABUDDHE: So when you were talking about, we have, in a constantly changing system, there's multiple equilibria, and we essentially will make a choice organically of which way we go. And I want to hear more from you of what you think so-- you have these four scenarios in the book, the superpower struggle, lingering status quo, reshaped world order, and new Cold War, but you also recognize that we're no longer in these silos of policymaking.


ADITI SAHASRABUDDHE: And in each of these silos, in the book, we're seeing sort of these systems within the broader order go in different directions. And so how do we then negotiate the complexity of these multiple equilibria in different silos as we move forward?

PAUL TUCKER: Oh, my goodness. Of course, I don't the answer to that question. But in a sense what I'm trying to Pose or argue is that our leaders, by which I don't mean our moral leaders but the people who hold high office, the president, and the people around him or her, prime ministers, chancellors, presidents, in the key states in Europe and elsewhere, Japan, and elsewhere, that they've got a bigger task, a bigger challenge than their predecessors faced over the past 25 years.

I mean, there's a kind of great problem that just after a period where maybe we've had particularly weak governance in lots of the West, it needs to be more skillful, more farsighted than it has needed to be for 40, 50 years if not-- if not longer. I can say something more concrete at a lower level about the policy world is I think that for much of the past 25 years since the end of the so-called Cold War, silos have been not only comfortable but not very harmful really.

You could be-- in my old world, you could be an expert in monetary policy and financial policy without knowing much trade policy. You had to know about trade economics. You didn't know about trade policy. Or even if someone knew about macroeconomic policy and trade policy, they didn't need to know about the Law of the Sea or war and peace, the laws of war and peace or the environmental policy or health policy. I don't think that's possible now. The example I like to use is, in Two Thousand Nine, someone walking into my room and saying the Federal Reserve has refused India a swap line, which is just a line of credit, to help them navigate the global financial crisis.

And my responding, but don't they realize India's going to be a power. And my point wasn't that the Federal Reserve should be making foreign policy. It's that that's above the Fed's pay grade, and the Fed needs to go to other parts of government and persuade them that this peculiar techie thing might not seem like an act of foreign policy in Washington but might feel like an act of foreign policy in Delhi.

And what this requires isn't people sitting in the Federal Reserve or the Defense Department or state or whatever who are expert in everything because that's both impossible and would be bad, but they are literate enough in each other's concerns, that they can persuade each other that something that seems remote is in fact relevant to them, that government just needs to be a bit more joined up than it has needed to be when peace and order of a style that we desire seem secure.

ADITI SAHASRABUDDHE: So this makes me think of something I was reading this past week. I've read it before. I find myself returning to this book all the time, which is The Arena of International Finance by Charles Coombs who was at the New York Fed in the nineteen-sixties. And he talks about how when they were creating these earlier Basel credits and swaps in Nineteen Sixty-One, many central banks didn't necessarily have the authority to do certain things or they couldn't enter into agreements without collateral.

And all he did was talk to Robert Roosa and Douglas Dillon and the Treasury. Of course, at the time, the Fed was an agent of the Treasury. And so they needed a lot more authority. But it seemed like those ways around to then engage in that policymaking was, A, something they didn't balk at as much. But we also almost made them more nimble at sort of responding to problems in a way that now, if it looks like foreign policymaking, they probably shy away from it.

PAUL TUCKER: I think there is more silo than there was then. But it's always been a bit present. There's an extraordinary story too actually relate to the unraveling of Bretton Woods in this country, the United States. The first is that when the US finally came off gold, I think Kissinger wasn't told that that moment had coming. But in the other direction, as the United States was becoming frustrated with particularly Europe, it put on import tariffs against various European countries.

And Kissinger warned President Nixon that this would be bad foreign policy. He was right by the way. And the president's response was kind of, yeah, I know. But it's popular for the moment and there were a lot of pressure. So there you've got a bit of monetary stuff, a bit of trade stuff because the import tariffs, by the way, taken through the Gatt process, and I think were found illegal and some domestic politics.

And you need people that are literate across all of this. And in a way, Kissinger was showing that he was.

MARK BLYTH: So I want to see what all this leads to, and when you gave the talk, I wrote the following sort of banners down, right? If there's polls advice to princes, which would be the following four bullet points, international cooperation is great. You should aim for universals, multilaterals, and the whole lot. But ultimately, this is secondary to domestic order. You cannot screw that up. And if you do, bad things happen.

Second one, if you have to settle for clubs rather than universals, fine, because it will become thicker in that sense because, if you will, the normative convergence of the people in the club is stronger than across the universal. Third one, IOs are awesome, but they shouldn't govern in the sense of ruling, they should only serve in the sense of ruling.

And ultimately, all of our conflicts are value conflicts. Now each of those on their own is uncontroversial. And taken together, they're not controversial, but it is very powerful. It's very different from the usual way that we would think about how to conduct oneself in international policy. I want to hover over the last one. Ultimate conflicts are value conflicts. What do you mean by that?

PAUL TUCKER: First of all, thank you very much for attending to my book sufficiently to find some of its big messages. So a certain kind of realist would say the state's fundamental instinct is survival. But of course, states actually are abstract entities and people need to be able to fight for the survival. Their willingness to fight depends upon how far they believe in the way of life.

The way of life is suffused with values. If you think about our political values, now and around here as Bernard Williams would have said, representative democracy, rule of law, constitutionalism. Well, those have been our values for 200 years now. But in lots of ways, our lives, our material lives have changed because of technology. But we really care about that. What do people get really bothered about in London and around Washington over the past few years. It's you're violating the rule of law, or you're trying to cheat in elections. Or you're not respecting the separation of powers.

And these are legitimation norms. We understand that things can go wrong. And therefore, we care about how we're governed, not just the results. Of course, we do care about the results. But yeah, values. Our deep political values matter, not the values that necessarily appear in a seminar room. But the values that are inscribed into and animate our core institutions, those values. These values are something that we have to be prepared to sacrifice for.

So there is also the book ends with a tone of hopefulness. But actually it's a hopefulness that recognizes the necessity in certain circumstances of sacrifice.

MARK BLYTH: Is this perhaps why, let's take the American example, there's such a neuralgia about the ability or attempts of the Russian government to interfere in domestic politics? Because in a sense, by sowing seeds of doubt and division in the populace over the very legitimatary principles that make the United States a society, you're weakening it more than you do with a whole variety of direct international challenges.

PAUL TUCKER: Yes, yes. But it's also-- and this is the most alarming thing about that whole episode, it is also striking to me, I'm 65 this year, that the population as a whole was less stirred up by apparent Russian interference than would have been the case 40 or 50 years ago. And I think the proper response isn't, oh, my God that was terrible because who knows whether it happened or not.

It was this would have been terrible if it happened. And we really, really do need an objective view on it happened because we can't be ruled that way, because we can't survive that way.

MARK BLYTH: So I'm going to close with one that's a bit geeky. As you know, I'm friends with Nassim Taleb. And I greatly admire many of the things he has written. One of those things is the whole book Antifragile. And you get close to an antifragile position at the end. You say, in this world, whereby the West has to live with, if you will, it's latter day France in the form of China, these value conflicts are going to be our ultimate conflicts. The values are also the things that bind us together are going to keep us together and safe in a sense. To use the game theory term, what you should do is seek a min-max solution.

You should always seek to minimize the cost of the worst thing that can happen to you. And that's very sound advice. That's a resilience.

PAUL TUCKER: Yes. It leads to resilience.

MARK BLYTH: It leads to resilience, right? But Taleb looks for something else. And I'm wondering if the space for this in your argument that what makes the West the West and what has made it so survivable, and what makes it basically able to continue in this relationship going forward is the fact that it's more than that. It's antifragile. It basically gains from disorder. When it gets shocks, not all the time, it can actually emerge stronger, whereas authoritarian societies with more imposed value consensus simply don't have that capacity. Is there room for that in your work?

PAUL TUCKER: Yes, yes. Certainly a variant of it. I argued in my previous book, and it's in the conclusion of this book as well that the extraordinary thing about representative democracy, I think it's quite important that it's representative democracy, is that it separates how we feel about the system of government from how we feel about the government of the day because we can get rid of the government of the day if we're fed up with it, which quite frequently we are, peacefully, without losing faith in the system of government.

And what that enables is a system of trial and error government. People get up fed up with one party, and they try the other party. And the party experiments a bit. I mean, I think Dewey's right about this. It isn't just that we've got fixed ends and we're experimenting in means. For some things, we're experimenting in ends as well. We have a go and we say, oh, actually, that wasn't so good after all. Let's revert back to what we were trying before.

Now, of course, the flipside is that representative democracy can be a bit short-termist, et cetera.

But it has got this marvelous feature that it separates how we feel about the system from how we feel about the governors. An authoritarian system is typically more brittle because the government and the party are the one and the same. And I mean, there are passages on China in the book, but this is why the kind of limited degree of pluralism within the party, which is reduced in recent years, is quite significant.

But even if that weren't true, I think, it matters enormously that the party and the system are coterminous. And this isn't something that's hidden. There are really important speeches less than a decade ago about how the party stands above the constitution and stands above the state and embodies the law. And that is not what we think.

MARK BLYTH: It's not much of a shock absorber.

PAUL TUCKER: No. And we didn't get there by design, by the way. We got there by trying to-- the human element in the book is we arrived at these things by trial and error and by trying to overcome problems and opportunities that we had sometimes after terrible wars going back many hundreds of years. But we have arrived at something which does have this precious quality.

MARK BLYTH: So there may be global discord. But that doesn't necessarily mean a global downer or a global disaster.

PAUL TUCKER: We should believe, we should believe in our system without proselytizing it to everybody else. So it also follows from what I'm saying that, to the extent that other parts of the world, other peoples drawing on different civilizations have navigated their own problems and opportunities in different geographies, climates, et cetera, et cetera, different neighbors, we should respect that.

But in the process of doing so, we absolutely mustn't lose faith or hope in our own system because it's a rather magnificent achievement, including our capacity to criticize ourselves. Bernard Williams, who's one of the other guiding spirits of the book, he ends his book Truth and Truthfulness, and I in my book with a variant of this saying, we need to face up to the bad things in our past. And as long as it doesn't break us in the process, that's a good thing and a strength.

MARK BLYTH: Paul Tucker, thank you very much.

PAUL TUCKER: Thank you, Mark. Thank you, Aditi.


MARK BLYTH: This episode was produced by Dan Richards and Laila Wirth. I'm Mark Blyth. You can listen to more conversations like this by subscribing to the Rhodes Central Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts. We'll be back soon with another episode of the Rhodes Center Podcast. Thanks.

About the Podcast

Show artwork for The Rhodes Center Podcast with Mark Blyth
The Rhodes Center Podcast with Mark Blyth
A podcast from the Rhodes Center, hosted by political economist Mark Blyth.

About your host

Profile picture for Mark Blyth

Mark Blyth

Host, Rhodes Center Podcast