Inside the Five-Sided Box
Ash Carter, Belfer Professor of Technology and Global Affairs; Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
APPLYING THE ANALYTICAL DISCIPLINE of a nuclear physicist and the strategic sensibility of a college professor, Ash Carter breaks down the mammoth Pentagon, and by extension the $700 billion U.S. Department of Defense, into comprehensible components. Then he adds insights that could only come from his 35 years working inside and up through the American defense establishment, culminating with his two years as secretary of defense under President Barack Obama.
Carter first joined the School’s faculty in 1984, and moved back and forth between Harvard and the Pentagon over the years; he returned to HKS once again in 2017 to serve as director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, where he leads the Technology and Public Purpose Project. Along the way, he held nearly every top civilian job in the Pentagon. His passion for public service—and for analyzing what makes it effective—illuminates every section of his new book. It’s no surprise that two faculty colleagues, Graham T. Allison, the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, and Wendy R. Sherman, a professor of the practice of public leadership, both call the book “a master class” on strategic leadership for American security.
It can’t be coincidental that Carter divides his book into five sections, each appealing to distinct audiences and enriched by personal anecdotes and clear examples of hands-on experience within the Pentagon. The first section, a “User’s Guide to the Military Industrial Complex,” delves into the intricacies of managing the immense defense budget efficiently and deftly. He describes busting through bureaucratic obstacles to expedite delivery of new armored vehicles for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and revamping the bidding process on huge defense projects to inject competition.
A second section reflects on the politics and public relations challenges he faced while working with five presidents. Carter calls Obama’s personal and professional style “careful and acute, but also lean and parsimonious.” Reviewing his dealings with Congress, “a board of directors with 535 members,” he offers a survival guide to testifying at hearings.
Military-minded readers, whether armchair or active duty, will relish the “Troops in Action” section, where he details the campaign to defeat ISIS extremists in Syria and Iraq. Carter explains the rationale for his stated objective to deliver a “lasting defeat” to ISIS; he sought to convey “clarity of purpose” to the military, Congress, and the public to win backing for the mission. He concludes with sections on strategy and leadership that underlie effective security, especially in an era of fast-changing, asymmetrical threats from cyberwar to terrorism.
Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt
“WHILE POLITICS is like the weather,” writes Arthur Brooks, “climate is like ideas.” And Brooks—a self-described “policy nerd with a PhD,” a recent addition to the Kennedy School faculty, and former president of the American Enterprise Institute—had always been happy to stay away from the squalls and concentrate on blue-sky thinking.
“However, even a climate scientist has to think about the weather when a hurricane comes ashore, and that’s what’s happening today,” Brooks argues. “Political differences are ripping our country apart, rendering my big, fancy policy ideas largely superfluous.”
“Across the political spectrum, people in positions of political power and influence are setting us against one another. They tell us our neighbors who disagree politically are ruining our country. That ideological differences aren’t a matter of differing opinions but reflect moral turpitude. That our side must utterly vanquish the other, even if it leaves our neighbors without a voice,” Brooks writes.
So, what to do when one in six Americans has stopped talking to a family member or a close friend because of the 2016 election, and millions deliberately avoid hearing different viewpoints? Brooks sees a hunger for unity obscured by the fractiousness and what he calls the “culture of contempt.”
He proposes five simple rules to allow people to fight back: “Stand up to the Man—stop giving your money and attention to the outrage industrial complex. Escape the bubble—go where you’re not invited, seeking out true ideological diversity. Say no to contempt—treat others with love and respect, even when it’s difficult. Disagree better, not less—be part of a healthy competition of ideas. Disconnect—tune out unproductive national debates, and make a difference closer to home.”
“Want it even simpler?” Brooks concludes. “Go find someone with whom you disagree; listen thoughtfully; and treat him with respect and love. The rest will follow naturally from there.
Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit, and Authoritarian Populism
Pippa Norris, Paul F. McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics; Ron Inglehart, University of Michigan
THE TECTONIC PLATES of culture have shifted,” Pippa Norris writes. And as the ground heaves and buckles beneath, the political landscape has been transformed. From the Americas to Europe to Asia, authoritarianism and populism have combined to shake the foundations of what were once considered immovable liberal democratic norms, such as the defense of human rights, the protection of civil liberties, and the importance of science and expertise.
Many analysts have pinpointed the cause as material anxiety: the desperation of those left out of global, knowledge-based, and increasingly unequal economies, uncertain of their financial future and sometimes bereft of hope.
Norris attacks those arguments on two fronts. Using extensive social survey data, she shows how that cultural tectonic shift, which has included rapid change in areas such as gender equality, sexual freedom, and multiculturalism, has left a segment of the population (often older, less educated, white, and rural) feeling pushed to the margins where once they were at the center. This has “triggered an authoritarian reflex” and support for conformity with traditional values, hostility to outsiders, and loyalty to strong leaders.
She also pushes back against the idea that populism is an ideology. It is, instead, agnostic on matters of policy and values while fervent in matters of style, where it sets “real people” against “elites.” Although it can be used in the service of progressive ideas, the style has been harnessed most successfully by authoritarian forces, which make use of a rhetoric “attacking ‘Them’ and reasserting the legitimate voice of ‘Us’ through claiming ‘power to the people.’”
There are no easy answers, Norris writes. Like the grassroots movements that have brought so much progress, elements of populism—decoupled from dangerous demagogues—can be positive. The attention they bring to problems of governmental corruption and lack of responsiveness can help strengthen useful reforms. But much depends on the ability of leaders to bridge divisions, and of those resisting the worst impulses to translate their protests into results at the ballot box.
Can Science Make Sense of Life?
IN ELEGANT PROSE—rich with cultural allusions from poets to the Bible—Sheila Jasanoff traces developments in the life sciences that have given biologists a great deal of authority over decisions that can transform not only individual human lives but also our understanding of life writ large. A pioneer in the field of science, technology, and society studies, Jasanoff pairs her analysis with a forceful argument that other voices—those of ethicists, cultural organizations, legal bodies, citizens’ advocates, and so on—should have more power in conversations that affect human life. Ultimately, she argues that biology should take “its rightful place within and not above society.” (Read more about her work here.)
Jasanoff provides an overview of the development of biology as a discipline—from its beginnings with Charles Darwin and other naturalists and explorers to its move to high-tech indoor laboratories to its commercialization with the rise of the biotechnology industry. By the mid- to late-20th century, Jasanoff argues, biologists had both the knowledge and the tools to intervene in ever-smaller segments of life—in the DNA sequences that make up every living thing. And, increasingly, they monetized their discoveries.
Laced into Jasanoff’s history is a story of cultural mythmaking in which society has ascribed to biologists objectivity and neutrality, along with the authority to regulate the scope of their own activities with little outside input. In order to examine how biologists have acquired this power over decisions that affect human life broadly, Jasanoff focuses her lens on reproductive technologies, genetic engineering, and biotechnology, examining not only scientific advances in these areas but also the policy conversations and legal decisions that have dealt with them.
Jasanoff proposes interventions to democratize conversations about not just what life is, but what it is for, and to invite the perspectives of a wider range of people and organizations from across the globe. There is, she claims, a “need to supplement existing institutional infrastructures, such as national high courts and bioethics bodies, to enable conversations that are both more inclusive and more respectful of divergent perspectives on the meaning and ends of life.” For Jasanoff, “it remains a universal condition of the good society that it must encourage the flourishing of life in all its varied meanings.”