“Defining Deviancy”: Daniel Patrick Moynihan and the Law
Not since Tocqueville, perhaps, has there been an observer of American politics and society whose wisdom has been so roundly appreciated, by both left and right, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Of course, as opposed to Tocqueville, Moynihan’s wisdom derived in part from his status as the consummate insider: a man who was a lifelong Democrat, but who served equally in both Democratic and Republican administrations (Kennedy and Johnson, Nixon and Ford) before representing New York for twenty-four years in the Senate. In between, Moynihan was ambassador to India as well as to the United Nations. Moynihan’s death in March 2003 was overshadowed by the invasion of Iraq; with the publication of these letters, however, we have seen a belated reflection on the seemingly indispensable role Moynihan played in American life throughout his long and varied career.
As critical reception of these letters has shown, Moynihan’s stature has rested chiefly on two pillars: one, what Hendrik Hertzberg in The New Yorker calls Moynihan’s “genuine independence, intellectual and political”; and two, Moynihan’s proud “centrism,” which made him “unfit for the partisan warfare that he saw rising as his career came to an end,” as David Brooks tells us in The New York Times. That neither of these qualities diminished or compromised the other is one of the mysteries surrounding Moynihan’s reputation: iconoclasts are not often renowned for their “bipartisanship.” But harnessing this apparent contradiction, as his letters reveal, was vital to Moynihan’s political success. It is the secret to explaining how a man known to be indefatigably autonomous could have also been trusted to faithfully serve those in power.
In 1993, Moynihan published an influential article in The American Scholar called “Defining Deviancy Down: How We’ve Become Accustomed to Alarming Levels of Destructive Behavior.” In the article, Moynihan argued that due to an unprecedented growth in anti-social pathology (criminal behavior, instances of mental illness) since the nineteen-sixties, American society had begun to lower the threshold of what it considered to be unacceptable behavior, thus “defining deviancy down.” This ideological gambit was presented by Moynihan as a coping mechanism, a way for society to rationalize what was occurring in its midst. Moynihan uses the example of the Valentine’s Day Massacre to illustrate his point. The incident, where four gangsters killed seven other gangsters, caused widespread alarm throughout the country in 1929. In 1993, such an incident would be almost mundane in Los Angeles or David Dinkins’ New York. Soon after his essay appeared, Rudolph Giuliani would institute a reign of “law and order” as mayor of New York; power in congress would shift to the Republicans -- signs that Moynihan clearly grasped the coming changes in the moral and political climate of the United States. Moynihan, in fact, credited his article with not merely anticipating but also provoking some key changes in society. Reviewing its impact in his book Miles to Go: A Personal History of Social Policy, Moynihan cites approvingly Joe Klein’s assertion in Newsweek that in New York City “Giuliani had taken ‘Defining Deviancy Down’ as a sacred text.” “Crime Declined!” Moynihan adds.
As we learn from the Portrait in Letters, by the time Moynihan wrote his famous piece in 1993 he had also become an advocate for causes that did not jive with his social conservatism. Perhaps the most intriguing of these is mentioned by Moynihan in a 1984 letter to Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Shultz: “There is no reason you should know this,” Moynihan tells Schultz, “but since coming to the Senate I have spoken with some frequency on the subject of international law.” Moynihan’s concern for international law was first expressed in his 1984 book Loyalties, which has a picture of Moynihan standing defiantly on the cover, hands on his hips, apparently an unabashed expression of his professed “loyalties.” Moynihan expounds at greater length on the subject in his 1990 book On the Law of Nations. Weisman also provides some letters of Moynihan’s on the topic, mainly addressed to President George H.W. Bush on the eve of the first Gulf War. While some would consider his approach to international law, especially in the context of his corpus of letters, to be a relatively minor aspect of Moynihan’s legacy, Moynihan himself made much of his commitment to international law later in life. I would also argue that an examination of Moynihan’s ideas on the subject of international law might also give us key insight into how Moynihan achieved such prominence in our intellectual and political culture. For they clearly reveal Moynihan to be a careful practitioner of the art of mythmaking, and to be hostage to precisely the same kind of self-deception and illusions with regard to crime that Moynihan deplored in American society at large. Indeed, Moynihan’s “defining deviancy down” is a catchphrase that can actually serve as a near-perfect summary of what Moynihan himself did throughout his entire life -- in often remarkably dishonest ways -- when it came to American crimes abroad and his own roles in those crimes. This issue is in fact of crucial significance today, far beyond the importance attached to a revision of one man’s reputation, as the United States continues to “define deviancy” by imprisoning the socially disadvantaged for crime at rates far beyond any other country in the western world, while allowing the most egregious war crimes perpetrated by elites to remain unpunished. Put in such stark terms, Moynihan would undoubtedly protest against this status quo. His own thinking, however, indicates that he played no small role in enabling it.
As we learn in his book Loyalties, Moynihan’s respect for international law came to a head during the Reagan administration, specifically during the twin crises of the invasion of Grenada and the mining of harbors in Nicaragua. Elsewhere, however, Moynihan assures us that international law was a lifelong concern of his. It must therefore strike the reader as rather curious that, given his role in four previous administrations, Moynihan would have seized upon just a fraction of our admittedly illegal actions in Central America in the eighties as opportunity to declare his “loyalty” to international law. After all, did the United States under Reagan deviate significantly from established behavior with regard to international norms? If not, might it be worth considering what Moynihan had to say about this subject before he joined the Senate, when he presumably had ample opportunity (particularly as ambassador to the United Nations) to put his wisdom into practice?
Before reviewing Moynihan’s tenure as ambassador, the structure and substance of Moynihan’s book On the Law of Nations gives us important clues as to how Moynihan came to his controversial interest in international law. On this last point, Moynihan was never shy about reminding everyone how wrought with tension international law was in the elite circles he moved in, thereby demonstrating how unique he was in deviating from such attitudes. Moynihan’s book opens with a recap of a talk he gave to the Council on Foreign Relations in 1979, where he suggested “a certain dis-orientation in American foreign policy derived from our having abandoned, for practical purposes, the concept that international relations should be governed by a regime of public international law.” This apparently got Moynihan into a little trouble, though he was well aware that “introducing international law into discussion almost invariably sets off a reaction.” Interestingly, Moynihan believed the “catalytic quality” of the idea of international law had in part to do with it being somewhat lacking in machismo -- ”real men [in the Reagan era] did not cite Grotius,” Moynihan tells us in On the Law of Nations; it’s the purview of “wimps, sissies [and] liberals,” he wrote in a 1988 essay for the Cordozo Law Review. Elsewhere, Moynihan associated contempt for international law with a kind of historical amnesia: “In the annals of forgetfulness, there is nothing quite to compare with the fading from the American mind of the idea of the law of nations.”
As with some of his other sweeping generalizations about society, Moynihan’s critique of the “American mind” might give us better insight into the author’s own modus operandi than that of America at large. Indeed, in the “annals of forgetfulness” there may be no better example of this phenomenon than Moynihan’s ridiculously selective treatment of international law in his own work. On the Law of Nations, for example, moves quickly from a broad historical overview in the chapters “Peace” and “War,” to a consideration of the positive legacy of two American presidents with respect to international law (“Wilson” and “Roosevelt”), to a chapter dealing with Soviet appropriation of international law in the latter half of the Cold War, finally culminating in Moynihan’s critique of American policy in the Reagan era. In the last chapter, we are treated to a long excerpt from an exchange between Moynihan and Donald Phinney Gregg before the Committee on Foreign Relations, on the occasion of Gregg’s nomination by President George Bush to be ambassador to the Republic of Korea in 1989. Moynihan took this opportunity to grill Gregg, who worked for the CIA for thirty years, on his involvement in meetings leading up to the CIA’s mining of Nicaraguan harbors in 1984. Moynihan quotes himself at length, reminding Gregg “that for the United States to lay mines in Nicaraguan harbors was a violation of treaty obligations and under the Constitution a violation of the supreme law of the land.” A hapless Gregg can only respond, “I do not remember that particular point being raised [in meetings].” Moynihan continues, “The Constitution of the United States says that treaties are the supreme law of the land...our Executive Branch...deliberately violated that law...did no one ever say that was against the law?” After Senator Paul Simon from Illinois takes over the questioning, Gregg finally admits to the senators, like a cornered schoolboy, “you are getting me into an area where I am feeling uncomfortable.”
Moynihan’s self-flattering histrionics must have been a bitter pill for Gregg to swallow. But had he the desire to commit political suicide on the spot, Gregg could have pointed out Moynihan’s shrill hypocrisy in failing to acknowledge his own complicity in violations of international law. Of course, Moynihan’s own responsibility for casting international law into the realm of “forgetfulness” is not a subject any reader of Loyalties, On the Law of Nations, or Weisman’s edition of his letters will become acquainted with. On the Law Of Nations, for example, entirely glosses over Moynihan’s years as ambassador to the UN. About the Vietnam War and its relevance for America’s commitment to international law, Moynihan similarly has almost nothing to say. This is not to suggest that Moynihan did not believe that the Vietnam War was problematic; he did, for example, credit the war with “turn[ing] solid democracies anti-American at the level of official pronouncement,” thus making the “United Nations...just another of our problems” and “international law the last place to look for support.” Here is Moynihan’s revealing analysis of how this unfortunate state of affairs came to pass:
“The increasing indifference to the [UN] Charter that could be detected in American conduct in the 1970s may be read as a form of withdrawal, even exhaustion. For a quarter-century the United States had been rushing about the globe preserving other people’s freedoms, or improving their agriculture, or raising their aspirations, or what you like. We had little to show for it if gratitude is to be counted as a good. To the contrary, as membership in the United Nations first doubled and then tripled the new nations were anything but friendly. They were frequently explicitly hostile. Further, with but few exceptions, they corrupted the language of the Charter.”
Only Moynihan, one might imagine, could have had the audacity to present a flippant whitewash of our wars in Southeast Asia, not to mention coups in Iran and Guatemala, among other actions, in the context of a book professing support for international law. It is an account that could make the most stalwart apologist of the Vietnam War blush. (Even William F. Buckley would likely have considered the notion that we were “improving people’s agriculture” to be a bit rich for his taste.) For good measure, Moynihan expresses outrage at the UN when “Soviet-backed Vietnamese forces invaded ‘Democratic Kampuchea’ [and] the General Assembly adopted a relatively mild resolution that failed to even mention Vietnam by name.”
Moynihan’s revisionism, however, is at least true to one facet of history, namely his own record. Weisman tells us that although “Moynihan felt a certain loyalty to Nixon” he nonetheless “saw his role as a kind of truth-teller because of his roots outside the Nixon inner circle.” Letters dated from the time of the Vietnam War, however, show that Moynihan’s role as “truth-teller” did not extend to playing the international law-loving Cassandra in the Nixon White House. Vietnam, of course, did figure prominently in Moynihan’s thinking at the time, but only insofar as it related to his overriding concern, what Moynihan called “the erosion of the authority of American institutions.” In a letter to Nixon on the eve of his presidency, Moynihan cites the “Negro revolution” along with the war in Vietnam as the principle causes of this phenomenon. In no way, as Moynihan makes clear in the same letter, did he believe that the war itself, rather than the opposition it engendered, constitute the real reason for the crisis attending the “erosion of the authority of American institutions”: “As best I can discern,” Moynihan tells Nixon, “the war was begun with the very highest of motives at the behest of men such as McNamara, Bundy and Rusk.” Further reassuring the president that he need not feel overly responsible for escalating a war that he inherited, Moynihan continues, “At the risk of seeming cynical, I would argue that the war in Vietnam has become a disastrous mistake because we have lost it,” an insight into the nature of warfare that students of military history will surely appreciate. As for the domestic opposition, Moynihan notes, “the war has not gone well, and increasingly in an almost primitive reaction -- to which modern societies are as much exposed as any Stone Age clan -- it has been judged that this is because the Gods are against it.” That the Vietnam war could have been opposed for less abstract reasons -- for example, the war crimes enumerated by Moynihan’s contemporary, Telford Taylor, in the latter’s well-known 1970 book Vietnam and Nuremberg: An American Tragedy -- was apparently lost on Moynihan. In any event, such was the extent of “truth-teller” Moynihan’s fealty to international law during the war in Vietnam.
As we can see, Moynihan clearly had other issues on his mind during his sojourn in the Nixon White House. One theme that emerges from the letters during the Nixon years is Moynihan’s desire to shield the administration from “the adversary culture” (in Lionel Trilling’s phrase) and the machinations of the young, with “their incredible powers of derision, destruction and disdain.” Indeed, a reader of these letters will be struck by how similar Moynihan’s understanding of the time was to Kissinger’s, especially in terms of the paranoid sense that the administration was effectively under siege by elite sectors of society. It will also become clear why Moynihan quickly became a darling of the fledgling neoconservative movement. Moynihan, donning his hat as sociologist, tells Nixon in a 1969 memorandum, “One of the least understood phenomenon [sic] of the time is the way in which the radical children of the upper middle classes have influenced their parents. That is why Time Magazine, Life, Newsweek, NBC, CBS the New York Times and the media in general will take their side against anybody whatsoever: The Democratic party, the Pentagon, Mayor Daley. Or, if it should ever come to it...you.” Nixon, as we know, apparently got the message that he could be an unfair target for persecution. Apart from reinforcing presidential pathologies, however, Moynihan’s letters to and about Nixon do give important insight into an administration that saw no contradiction between indulging in fantasies about being “trapped” and crippled by public opinion on the one hand, while at the same time continuing to unleash hell on tiny countries on the other. As Moynihan notes in a 1970 memorandum to fellow White House staffers and future Watergate culprits John D. Ehrlichman and H.D. Haldeman, “The ‘culture’ is more in opposition now than perhaps at any time in history. The President will have to live with it permanently...we can’t change this.” For this reason, “our own power to influence events is limited.”
As we have noted, Moynihan was virtually silent on the subject of international law until the invasion of Grenada and the debacle surrounding Nicaragua in 1984. The issue doesn’t arise again in the Letters until the first Gulf War, when Weisman selects a small cluster of letters from Moynihan on the subject. As Moynihan, with characteristic humility, reminds those on the receiving end, the Gulf War happened to coincide with the publication of his 1990 book On the Law of Nations, thus making for a particularly auspicious set of circumstances for which to heed his insights into the subject. Indeed, Moynihan appears to have been nothing short of giddy at the prospect of the idea of international law, if not the application of it, finally making a foray into public discourse. “Our President invok[ed] international law six times in one press conference!” Moynihan tells former dean of Harvard Law School Erwin Griswold in a letter dated September 1990. “You used the term ‘international law’ three times yesterday!” Moynihan praises President H.W. Bush in a December 1990 memorandum. In the end, however, Moynihan did not support the Gulf War; according to Weisman, he thought the U.S. should use the opportunity of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait to formulate a “case study of international law, requiring sanctions and not a military response.” Moynihan, in a letter to Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, outlines what such a “case study” would look like. After telling Mitchell “the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait is the clearest possible violation of the [UN] Charter” and “a formidable regime of international law is now arrayed against Iraq,” Moynihan reviews Iraq’s other crimes. Chief among these is Iraq’s use of poison gas, “a hideous act, clearly in violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol” and Iraq’s “long war against Iran” which was “as much an act of aggression as its war against Kuwait, but neither the United States nor any other UN member attempted any sanction.” Moynihan, of course, could have mentioned one rather obvious reason why the U.S. may have been reluctant to sanction Iraq for its actions prior to the invasion of Kuwait: because the U.S. fully approved of those actions. Indeed, if this were the analysis of a talk radio host, it could perhaps be dismissed as mere propaganda. For a senator in the U.S. government, however, to list the crimes of a former ally in a private letter to the Senate majority leader while failing to acknowledge what they both obviously knew -- namely, that such crimes occurred when the dictator was receiving support from the United States -- takes self-delusion to bizarre new heights.
In the end, however one conceives of Moynihan’s erstwhile “support” for international law, no consideration of his interest in the subject can be complete without a brief examination of his tenure as Ambassador to the UN. As opposed to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Iraq, there is one small country whose name is missing from the indices of Loyalties, On the Law of Nations, and A Portrait in Letters: East Timor. Unfortunately, when one considers the atrocities that occurred in this tiny state in Southeast Asia under Moynihan’s watch, the stakes are raised from dishonesty to actual complicity in one of the gravest violations of international humanitarian law in the post-World War II era.
After Moynihan served as ambassador to India from 1973 till 1975, he was appointed the following year by Gerald Ford as US ambassador to the United Nations. In 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor, a Portuguese colony that had been preparing for independence following a 1974 coup in Portugal against the authoritarian right-wing government of Estado Novo. The invasion led to the death of at least one hundred thousand of the East Timorese people. The Indonesian military was overwhelmingly supplied with U.S. arms, and the invasion of December 7 took place only hours after President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger departed from Jakarta. As to the question of whether the U.S. pre-approved of the invasion, official documents released by the National Security Archive in 2001 reveal there is no doubt. In the words of Ford’s National Security Adviser, Brent Scowcroft, “I guess it was fundamentally a matter of recognizing reality...it made no sense to antagonize the Indonesians...East Timor was not a valuable entity.”
In November 1975, Moynihan, in what some regard as the high point in his political life, denounced in no uncertain terms the infamous “Zionism is Racism” resolution at the United Nations. The United States, Moynihan famously said, “does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act.” About the invasion of East Timor one month later, Moynihan took a somewhat different line. In his memoir of his years as UN ambassador, A Dangerous Place, Moynihan reflected on his responsibilities as ambassador during the invasion. Addressing China’s support of FRETILIN, the populist Timorese party tasked with the impossible -- defending their country from Indonesian aggression -- Moynihan notes that the United States desired to see China fail in their support. Moynihan also writes, “The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.” On December 22, 1975, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 384, condemning the invasion. Within a matter of months, by Moynihan’s own estimate, approximately ten percent of the East Timorese population were dead -- a tribute to how “utterly ineffective” the United Nations indeed was, and continued to be. As we learn from the Letters, only months earlier Moynihan had advised Henry Kissinger to “take up the theme...of human rights” during a speech Kissinger was expected to deliver at the UN General Assembly.
One could go on, but by now it should be clear that Moynihan’s actual record on international law, as opposed to his ex post facto reflections on the subject, consistently make a mockery of the promise that Robert H. Jackson, chief American prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, made after World War II: that the U.S. would hold itself to the same standards that it imposed on others. For Moynihan basically saw international law as a pliable tool that could be shaped to suit America’s needs. To the extent that such a tool could be used for American designs, it should be invoked; if not, all could essentially be forgotten. Indeed, even when Moynihan sought to acknowledge American violations of international law, as he did during the Reagan administration, nowhere did he suggest that any punishment be meted out. Contrast this not only to his approach to the crimes of others -- during the Iran hostage crisis, for example, Moynihan wanted the U.S. to convince the Security Council that “the Vienna Convention of 1961 on diplomatic relations was to be upheld at whatever the cost. If need be, fire and sword to the gates of Teheran” -- but to American domestic crime as well, of which accountability was an obvious component. After Nixon quit office in 1974, Moynihan told the American embassy in India (where he was serving as ambassador), “we are in ways fortunate [that] we have been spared what could have been a most divisive and, bitter, of experiences -- a prolonged debate on impeachment.” And: “He [Nixon] leaves office with a clean decision in the sense that there need be no legacy of bitterness.” As we know, acceptance and resignation weren’t quite the attitudes Moynihan recommended when he got around to describing the alarming “deviancy” of those in urban America.
Finally, as for Weisman’s well-crafted book of letters, reflecting an enormous amount of care and attention, it undoubtedly provides a rare glimpse into a notable American life. Due to the nature of his subject, however, it is equally an unwitting contribution to our ever-expanding “annals of forgetfulness” and political hypocrisy.
- Steven R. Weisman, ed. Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary (New York: PublicAffairs, 2010).
- Hendrik Hertzberg, “Politics and Prose: The Letters of Daniel Patrick Moynihan,” New Yorker, 25 Oct. 2010. Online.
- David Brooks, “The Professor Goes to Washington,” New York Times BR, 17 Oct. 2010, 20.
- Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Miles to Go: A Personal History of Social Policy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 166.
- Ibid. Apparently Washington D.C. didn’t fare as well. In Miles to Go, Moynihan prints a 1995 letter to the Washington Post from a lady who recounts an incident where she was “confronted by a character straight out of the Moynihan scenario: ‘the squeegee guy.’” In this case, it was a squeegee woman, who sprayed her with water through an open window in her car when she was driving and refused to stop and give money. The lady, sprayed and outraged, says that she proceeded to call the police, “not in search of vengeance, or even justice” but merely because she was “waiting for a sign that Moynihan’s warning had been heeded in the District.” The police, alas, never showed. Such are the grave dangers we apparently risk in ignoring Moynihan’s sociological advice (Miles to Go, 166).
- Weisman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 468.
- Two recent publications, roughly coinciding with Moynihan’s letters, bear this out this fundamental paradox in American law. Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, devoted its summer 2010 edition to the issue of “mass incarceration.” The U.S. currently has the largest per-capita incarceration rate of any country in the world. In November 2010, George Bush’s memoir Decision Points was released, where Bush fully admits to authorizing “waterboarding” as a method of interrogation. It is painfully clear that the ex-president sees no potential consequences resulting from his authorization of torture or other violations of international law.
- “As a young man, just after World War II, I studied what was then called international relations...I wanted to take part in the great challenges and destiny of my generation...All of us were convinced that it was our duty and destiny to help build a world of peace based on law.” See Maura Moynihan, “Sen. Moynihan’s Prophetic Words,” Salon.com, 29 Jul. 2004. Online.
- Daniel Patrick Moynihan, On the Law of Nations (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), 1.
- Ibid., 2.
- Ibid., 7.
- Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “The Modern Role of Congress in Foreign Affairs,” Cordozo Law Review 9 no. 5 (April 1988): 1489-500.
- Moynihan, On the Law of Nations, 99.
- Ibid., 137.
- Ibid., 116.
- Ibid., 114-115.
- Weisman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 199.
- Ibid., 162.
- Ibid., 164.
- Ibid., 165.
- Taylor, who served as a member of the Counsel for the Prosecution at the Nuremberg, can reasonably serve (for our purposes) as a foil to Moynihan, for Taylor truly did have a lifelong passion for international law and upholding universal standards of justice, and was thus disturbed by U.S. actions in Vietnam. See Telford Taylor, Nuremberg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy (New York: Quadrangle Books, 1970).
- Weisman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 206-7.
- Ibid., 238.
- Consider the opening of this December 1990 memorandum to President George H.W. Bush:
“Your secretary Patty called yesterday to say that you really would like to have some thoughts from me to take on your trip to South America...If you were going by sea, this would be longer. Indeed I would send a book I published in September On the Law of Nations (Harvard, $ 22.50). I have already sent you one, but could easily afford another as the book is doing very well, is already in a second printing...” (Weisman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 562).
- Ibid, 542. On his support for sanctions, Moynihan assured President H.W. Bush that “they would not be pretty. They would in fact be brutal. Brutal, but better than war from our point of view” (Portrait in Letters, 563). After the conflict ended, the sanctions maintained at U.S. insistence did indeed bear out Moynihan’s observation, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis from 1991-2002. See, e.g., Joy Gordon, Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010).
- Weisman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 546.
- See “East Timor Revisited: Ford, Kissinger and the Indonesian Invasion, 1975-76,” National Security Archive Briefing Book, No. 62, eds. William Burr and Michael L. Evans.
- As quoted in Noam Chomsky, Towards a New Cold War (New York: The New Press, 2003 [first ed.: 1982]), 501n2.
- Daniel Patrick Moynihan, A Dangerous Place (New York: Little, Brown & Co., 1978), 247.
- Ibid., 245-6.
- Weisman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 378.
- Not only did Moynihan avoid the issue of punishment, he also, as we have seen, granted those like Henry Kissinger continued carte blanche to lecture the world on “human rights.” In the above-cited 1975 memorandum to Kissinger, Moynihan stated, “We do not, then, wish to contribute toward the creation of a new international order out of guilt or as a matter of reparations. The idea of reparations implies a debt incurred as a result of past wrongs. The United States acknowledges no such debt...” (Weisman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 379).
- Moynihan, On the Law of Nations, 119.
- Weisman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 349.
- Ibid, 348-49.
- To his credit, however, Moynihan was a perceptive critic of the “War on Drugs”: “Clearly the federal drug policy, Moynihan wrote, “is responsible for a degree of social regression for which there does not seem to be any equivalent in our history.” See the chapter “Drug Wars” in Miles to Go. In light of the vehement (and bipartisan) denunciation of WikiLeaks, we can see that Moynihan was similarly prescient about the issue of secrecy: “As I close out near on to half a century of government and politics,” Moynihan wrote in 2000, “the great fear I have for our democracy is the enveloping culture of government secrecy and the corresponding distrust of government that follows” (Portrait in Letters, 659). See also Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Secrecy: The American Experience (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998).
Matthew Phillips is pursuing an MA in Middle East studies. He is a frequent contributor to Mondoweiss.