Responses: Paul Berman

Responses: Paul Berman

I have no particular quarrel with Stanley Hoffmann’s comments, not even with the one endorsing a “free enterprise system” in Russia. But since Dissent is a journal of the left, allow me to exhume an additional point from the ancient casket of Marxist theory.

The core of modern left-wing thinking about foreign policy has always been (or imagined itself to be) moral. If you accept—as many people used to do—Marx’s labor theory of value, you must also accept a corollary added by Lenin in 1916. To wit: the wealth of the wealthy nations derives from the super-exploitation of colonized labor (thus forestalling the business disaster that would otherwise result from the falling rate of profit, as per Marx’s theory). Accordingly American wealth must be morally even more suspect than it might otherwise seem, and American actions abroad must be driven by imperialist motives—no matter what the government and its defenders might say. America’s best contribution to world affairs would therefore be to refrain from foreign interventions (except maybe against the devil himself, that is, Hitler, the grand exception), in the hope that smaller nations with higher ideals might profit from the American absence

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