Home / General / The Gorka Dissertation, Part II

The Gorka Dissertation, Part II



JDCIn my prior post, I tried to make clear that you don’t need to get very far—less than twenty pages, in fact—into Gorka’s dissertation to recognize its academic shoddiness. Something like 7% of it is a cut-and-paste job from an earlier article. In of itself, that’s not a problem. But the article came out 3-4 years before the dissertation, and Gorka couldn’t be bothered to change the text or update the data to reflect that gap. The first twenty pages also reveal a pattern that persists throughout the entire thesis: Gorka is not big on citations, especially scholarly ones. Moreover, the citation practices are, shall we say, lax. For example, here’s footnote 10:

The sarin gas attack executed on the Tokyo metro by Aum in 1995 was in fact preceded by several unsuccessful biological agent attacks prepared by the private laboratories the cult had established with millions of dollars of its funds. For a journalistic account of the history of the cult see David E. Kaplan and Andrew Marshal: “The Cult at the End of the World”, Arrow Books, London, 1996. For a scholarly and detailed analysis see the relevant section in Richard A. Falkenrath, Robert D. Newman and Bradley A. Thayer: “America’s Achilles’ Heel: nuclear, biological, and chemical terrorism and covert attack”, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1998 [emphasis added]

In fact the discussion of Aum Shinrikyo appears to be spread over multiple chapters. Along these lines, footnote 20 reads “CNN even showed footage of al Qaeda experimentation that involved the gassing of dogs.” That’s it. In fact, getting an appropriate citation isn’t that much of a challenge. But, at least, a reader can be thankful that he provides references at all. The section called “The New International Scene” runs from pages 19-23. It contains myriad empirical claims—such as the countries within which Al Qaeda had affiliates in 2001—and analytical ones—that Al Qaeda launched 9/11 against the United States to divide it from its allies,  or that “the Arab and Muslim world still has a perturbed relationship to the question of modernity” (21)—none of which are sourced in any manner. The only such reference, involving the number of CIA officers who spoke Pashto on September 11, is to “author’s discussion with Marine Colonel who had served in Afghanistan as a covert paramilitary operator within the CIA, Summer 2004” (2007, 22 fn18).

I stress this lack of citations not merely because it amounts to poor scholarly practice—if anything, the typical dissertation suffers from too many citations—but also because it reflects the bloviating tone that runs throughout. The lack of references creates the impression that Gorka is passing off every insight—from the shopworn, the clichéd, and the banal to the unoriginal but tendentious—as his own.

Some examples:

Here it may be too early to prove the existence of a large-scale trend, but with the second and successful attempt against the World Trade Centre (WTC), – following the earlier truck-bomb attempt in 1993 – al Qaeda at least, has demonstrated a determination to attack highly symbolic targets. This author believes the logic behind this tactic is clear. Terrorism is, like guerrilla warfare, always the tool of choice of weaker actors that cannot win a stand- up fight against their nation state adversary. As a result they will rarely, if ever, be in a position to exact lethal damage to the vital interests or functioning of the state they have pitted themselves against. This is why fear has to be the overarching goal, a fear which can be directed as a tool in applying greater and greater political pressure upon the targeted authorities until policies are changed. In this inculcation of fear, the attack of universally recognisable symbols – such as the Pentagon and WTC – is invaluable, especially in this age of live, global cable and satellite news services. Thanks to the likes of CNN, NBC, BBC, etc., Osama bin Laden was able to send his message of fear to as wide an audience at possible in the fastest time imaginable. Add to this last element of media exploitation, the recent rise of media outlets which challenge the ‘white man’s’ news monopoly, e.g. Al-Arabiya and al Jazeera Television, and we now have channels which in fact may be favourable to the terrorist and act as a force-multiplier in the globalisation of his message (2007, 18).

It is interesting to note that despite the beacon-like example that modern Turkey represents, here too there have been significant developments recently toward a revitalisation of a national identity that relies far more on religion than would otherwise even have been imaginable during recent decades. This resurgence can in part ironically be explained by the negative way in which the European Union has delayed talk of Turkish EU membership (2007, 22 fn17).

Globalisation as a process is not new. Many an ancient empire can be seen as a form of (limited) globalisation. Even so, the fact that globalisation is now occurring in an environment of interconnected market economies and the spread of one specific model of nation-state structuring, namely market democracy, means that an actor wishing to exploit the inherent weaknesses of the democratic model, such as a the religious terrorist, has a broader environment in which to operate. Additionally the attitude of many people nominally belonging to the faith community of Muslim fundamentalism may be swayed by interpretations of the current trends to globalisation that exacerbate the centuries old question of Islam’s relations to modernity and the West. Lastly, the fact that the pre-eminent exponent of globalised terrorism at this time has chosen to restrict his actions very much to attacks aimed against just a handful of Western nations (UK, US, Spain) results in the fact that existing alliance frameworks may be severely weakened by differing assessments as to whom has most to fear from “Transcendental Terror”. Within the previously united western world there is now no agreement on whether or not this is a significant new threat that applies to all of us. In part, the problem is that man has a propensity to judge others based upon himself. As a result it is very difficult to believe in, let alone comprehend, an adversary who thinks in a fashion so contrary to our own. We tend to posit our rationality, even our morality, onto the other. Additionally, many of America’s European allies are more inclined to resolve dispute and potential conflict through diplomatic and political means, rather than through the use of force (2007, 24).

The basics needs of a human being are quite easy to identify: shelter, sustenance and community. The importance of the first two is also simple to explain. As a biological entity, without protection from the elements and food and water, we will not function and quickly die. The relevance of the third requirement is superficially obvious, but on closer examination more complex. There are, of course, the economies of scale that come from living in a cooperative group. As our ancestors who did not have the use of firearms well knew, it is quite difficult to hunt and kill a large animal by oneself. Likewise to fish the seas in an efficient fashion or even to build a sizeable home is a faster and easier a task when done in the company of others. But there are also the psychological and societal benefits of not living the life of a hermit or recluse. Man craves friendship and companionship and finds fulfilment in living within community. If this were not the case, given all the benefits of technology, we could in fact choose to live in total isolation from one another today, but we do not. Then there is the more practical profit that accrues with regard to safety in numbers.

It has been said more than enough times that the history of Mankind is the history of conflict. Respect for one’s territory, one’s chattels and even one’s right to life was never a given. There have always been, and will always be, those that threaten our very existence or livelihood. As a result, the need to be able to defend oneself and one’s family has always been apparent. Such defence is easier when done in numbers than individually or just by family unit. In modern terms, this is the function of providing security (2007, 27).

This last bit of banality opens a section entitled “The Evolution of National Security.” Gorka presents one of the diagrams for which, if nothing else, he deserves all the credit due to him.

Gorka (2007, 28) did not think this through.

In conventional language, shifts in scale from “micro” to “macro” are shifts in size: smaller to larger. As best I can tell, Gorka is trying to tell a temporal story here: the evolution of security is a story about the increasing scale of the object that needs to be secured. The result is a mess. As he writes:

It is not the purpose of this dissertation to provide a lengthy discussion of this evolution, to enumerate the dates when one macro level gave way to another.  In gross terms we can speak, however, of a chain of security being tied first to the tribe or clan, then to a village and, or, religious community, and further to the local landowner unit, followed by a kingdom or empire, or a city-state until we arrive at the modern object of macro-security, the nation-state’ (Gorka 2007, 28).

There are a bunch of problems with this, but the most obvious goes something like this.

Here is the Neo-Assyrian Empire:


Here are some empires in around 750 AD:


Over the past three millennia, there have been many empires that are much larger in scale than national-states. Indeed, empires—along with federative and confederative polities—constitute some of the most time-honored ways of organizing large, heterogeneous political communities. It makes no sense to call “nation states” a more “macro” stage in security evolution than these forms.

Regardless, Gorka next briefly discusses Philip Bobbitt’s The Shield of Achilles—for just long enough to tell us that “while there is much to commend the work… it does have its distinct flaws, flaws that it shares with a majority of recent treatise that have proclaimed the death of the nation-state, somewhat prematurely” (2007, 30). This allows him to open his next section (“The Westphalian Inheritance”) with a paragraph that gives me hives.

It is often far too easy to take for granted the system of governance and administration in which we today live. If one does not professionally study modern history or the evolution of international law, one could be forgiven for thinking that the current system of independent nation-states has existed for much longer than it has in fact existed. The truth is that as a concept we can describe its evolution as being quite recent in historic terms. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 is taken by most commentators as introducing the foundations for the creation in the West of a system in which the objects were states, bodies that were independent of each others – although which could ally with one another – and into whose internal affairs it was not allowed to become involved, a system in which sovereignty would eventually become paramount26. Later, as this concept evolved and as the individual allegiances of the people would shift from local landowner or royal house, to a professional political elite defined around a national identity, the state would evolve further into the nation-state, with is fundamental aspects of citizenship and nationality.

26In fact it was the sacrosanct nature of sovereignty that would later lie behind the creation of the ‘balance-of-power’ system that would be so important to Europe in following centuries.

Again, no sources. None. Zero. And while “most commentators” may have once believed this, it’s wrong. Westphalia had nothing to do with the foundations of the state system. At least if Gorka had been troubled to cite some of the (very smart) people who argue that it did—even if erroneously—he would come across as less of a pretentious blowhard. The footnote is just the icing on the cake. The balance-of-power system did not render sovereign sacrosanct, because it was premised on moving territory around to maintain the balance of power. The inhabitants of what would later be called “Belgium” certainly did not appreciate being placed under the rule of the United Netherlands for the sake of blocking future French expansion.

All of this amounts to a belabored way of making a rather simple argument: almost all states are organized to defend themselves against military aggression, to police their territory, to engage in espionage, and to protect themselves against espionage. Moreover, Gorka contends, the western allies oriented those capabilities against the Soviet Union and its clients. With the end of the Cold War, things are so much more complex and uncertain, what with the cyber, and the environment, and the terrorism. Add a few footnotes, and we’d have pretty much all we need to move forward.

Thus Gorka returns us to terrorism. Or, more accurately, he summarizes a very few sources to tell us nothing original about conceptual issues related to the study of terrorism. But he does supply us with this wonder of a passage: “One more avenue that takes us out of the abstraction of mere words is a pictographic representation of the mechanics of terrorism. By resorting to a Venn diagram-like approach, it may be easier to understand the dynamics at work between the various subjects and objects of political violence [emphasis added].”

A Venn Diagram-Like Approach (Gorka 2007. 47)
A Venn Diagram-Like Diagram

Now, to the uninitiated, this may look merely like a simple flow chart. So I’ve created a diagram to help make sense of it:

Locating Venn Diagram-Like Diagrams: a Venn Diagram


That’s the end of Part II. I still haven’t gotten to the ‘good stuff’. 150 or so pages to go.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
  • If this isn’t the “good stuff”, I can’t wait to see what’s ahead. This reads like a parody of an academic dissertation. Those diagrams… my god.

  • Rob in CT

    750AD, I think you mean.

    • bender

      Or 750 CE.

      • dnexon

        Yes, thanks. Should be fixed now.

  • MAJeff

    So, diploma mill garbage.

    • Chetsky

      Ehh, he actually strung together what appear to be original English sentences, right? That’s more than a diploma mill expects, no? Uh …. not knowing what a diploma mill expects, naturally, but just guessing …. I’d think that they’d specialize in the “poor facility with English” demo, no?

      • MartinAlexander

        The interesting part of legal law in the US is that there is no definition of “diploma mill” anywhere so you have companies that will incorporate in the states with the most lax laws in relation to higher education institutions so they can then sell degrees to people overseas.

    • JohnT

      The university itself doesn’t sound like a particularly bad one. And he’s done time at the JFK school at Harvard, so some people like his stuff. (Although interestingly his undergraduate results were sub-par and his subsequent admittance to JFK came after his marriage to an American heiress). Source Wikipedia…

      • dnexon

        This looks like a program for people from the Balkans & Eastern Europe to spend time at Kennedy. I’m sure he was a fine candidate for the fellowship. I also don’t think it means much in terms of his scholarly credentials.

  • Jackson87

    I feel so safe knowing he’s on the job, securing us 24/7/365.
    Seriously, I’m not sure if moving to New Zealand would get me far enough away.

    • Mars? At this point, if these whack jobs are still in control by the time they start taking volunteers for a colony, I might consider going.

    • Colin Day

      I feel so safe knowing he’s on the job, securing us 24/7/365.

      Until our enemies attack us on 02/29/2020.

    • Manny Kant

      24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 weeks a year?

    • Depends on whether Gandalf is still on set.

  • Q.E.Dumbass

    Man that is some stupid shit. I suspect the rest of the dissertation is written entirely in crayon:

    Also (as suggested by humanoid.panda) any chance you’ll review Hardt & Negri’s Empire?

    • dnexon

      Interesting thought.

  • busker type

    Glad you’re doing this… I hope you’re taking adequate precautions against the danger of getting a very annoyed phone call from one S. Gorka!
    (That is to say, I hope you have a way to record it)

    • dnexon

      Maryland is a two-party consent state. So I suspect I’d treat any such phone call the same way that Erik treated the invitation to appear on Tucker Carlson.

      • busker type

        Ah… too bad

  • Booger

    Where is Edward Tufte when you need him?

  • lawtalkingguy

    what always fascinates me about eastern european authoritarian types is their hatred of academia yet their desperate need for credentials. even Putin spliced together a ‘phd’. And all of these ‘phds’ are so nakedly stupid.

    • Q.E.Dumbass

      See also: Elena Ceaucescu.

    • CP

      Isn’t that authoritarians in general? Our right wingers hate academia, but energetically promote anyone with vaguely academic credentials on their side as proof that they’re Very Smart. (Ben Carson).

      • The more I think about it, the less I’m sure that either half of that is true. Authoritarians like everyone to have a well specified particular job and to be able to tell what a person can be counted on to know from their position in the org chart. They have some idea that academics should infallibly support their ideas about power structures, and what freaks them out is the idea that people might disagree or think for themselves.

    • Bitter Scribe

      “This is no time to dwell on what is obvious. If, in his wisdom, Comrade Stalin has chosen to write about linguistics, he clearly has earned the right to do so.”

      –Jerzy Kosinski, Blind Date

  • I feel this discussion is an omen of ill portent. Crooked Timber started discussing Said Qaddafi’s Ph.D. and the next thing anybody knew we were sending the Air Force.

    Also a discussion of the map (specifically the location of Scythia) led to my losing an argument with an eight year old over whether Abkhazia is a country and whether a country is the same thing as a state. Her logic is impeccable.

    • Q.E.Dumbass

      I would keep my eyes on Germany.

    • DocAmazing

      I’m more worried about the Cimmerians. I don’t want Conan theiving, reaving and slaying around here.

      • mds

        “Tom Perez! What is best in life?”

        “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women!”

        • The Dark God of Time

          +1 Crom

          • rea

            +1 Harold Lamb, from whom the line was stolen (he put it in the mouth of Temujin)

            • Nepos

              Conan was actually quoting Temujin–he was hanging out with Mongols at the time. That’s why it was the ‘correct’ answer.

              [Yes, Conan is pre-history, blah blah, but those guys are obviously Mongols.]

      • Bitter Scribe

        Aw c’mon. The worst thing he would do is book Kim Kardashian.

  • Gregor Sansa

    750 AD, the year of the Danish land bridge?

  • The Family (Ex-)Linguist—who regularly taught graduate courses in semantics and sociolinguistics, and who keeps her linguistic finger firmly on the pulse of English As She Is Spoke despite having quit her tenured job at the University of California in despair, disgust, and depression—has noted in both of her more recent, distinctly non-academic jobs (in the backroom IRA department of a large regional bank, and in the equally backroom accounts payable department of a large regional hospital chain: a discovery that one is not, actually, a People Person after one has been made the chair of a linguistics department turns out to be disorienting, but curable by a lateral professional shift into backroom jobs) that “Venn diagram” has now come to denote exactly “diagram with ovals”, while connotatively conveying that the person speaking the former phrase is Highly Trained, or at least has Been To Workshops.

    She notes, more generally, that even colleagues who perform very well at jobs that one (of an academic background) might think would benefit from some facility at organizing information in the Boolean sort of way (AND, OR, NOT) that the diagrams Venn popularized successfully makes graphic do not, in fact, make much explicit use of any form of such facility, and certainly NOT any use (explicit or implicit) of “Venn diagrams” in Venn’s sense. Oh, well.

    • At least an ex-linguist can find some amusement in that kind of thing, I guess. Maybe she could write a paper.

    • Shantanu Saha

      Venn diagrams are a staple of k-12 education. My 6-year-old in kidergarten knows how to read and make Venn diagrams. I regularly use them in my middle and high school classes, and so do my students when required to graphically display information. Are you saying that this basic idea just atrophies from most people’s brains after they leave school? Or am I just living a sheltered life?

      • DocAmazing

        Loss of ability to meaningfully use graphic data: it’s not a matter of if, but Venn.

        • sibusisodan

          +1, would groan despairingly again.

  • Origami Isopod

    It has been said more than enough times that the history of Mankind is the history of conflict. Respect for one’s territory, one’s chattels and even one’s right to life was never a given. There have always been, and will always be, those that threaten our very existence or livelihood.

    Did that jump out at anyone else?

    • tahfromslc

      Well, you know, women and slaves. Just like other material possessions. He wants them to be “a given”.

    • UserGoogol

      Chattel apparently can refer to personal property in general, which I guess makes more sense in context, but it’s certainly an interesting choice of words.

      • Downpuppy

        Ah, yes, the insanity of animate chattel.

        • Ah, yes, the insanity of animate chattel.

          Cattle are a paradigmatic example of animate chattel (the resemblance of the words is not a coincidence). I see nothing insane about the concept of “animate chattel”, per se; in a world without (a history of) chattel slavery, the phrase could be useful and not burdened by that association.

          • Downpuppy

            Well, pood.

            I just love that part of Nat Turner.

    • William Berry

      It was the standard usage for property (pluralized as chattels) in English common law going back to the Middle Ages. It came through Middle French from Latin stem capit-, for “head”, hence its use for live-stock, the most common valuable property of English Yeomen.

      Yes, the live-stock connection makes it particularly odious in its use to describe the ownership of human beings, but that came much later and was just an extension of the earlier common-law usage.

      Or something like that.

      • Lurker

        Probably Gorka was simply trying to sound educated. The quoted passage is a quasi-philosophical discussion on the need for mutual defense. It would have been a relatively good, independent thought at Locke’s time, and probably Gorka was trying to improve the banal cliché by using antiquated language. Thus, “chattels” instead of “property”. Though “property” would be more appropriate. “Chattels” means movable property, which you can defend by fleeing with it. Real property requires actual defense at the location where it is situated.

  • tahfromslc

    This sounds spot-on for the Trump/Bannon regime: “As a result they will rarely, if ever, be in a position to exact lethal damage to the vital interests or functioning of the state they have pitted themselves against. This is why fear has to be the overarching goal, a fear which can be directed as a tool in applying greater and greater political pressure upon the targeted authorities until policies are changed.”

  • rm

    And my job is to teach college kids how to write well-documented, academically acceptable arguments.

    Life is meaningless.

    • Vance Maverick

      Nah, I think it’s the usual paradox. People like you who take seriously the work that surrounds a credential have a healthy perspective on the significance of the credential itself.

      • No Longer Middle Aged Man

        That’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me, well not to me but I’m taking it by extension to me, about my work and profession in a long time.

  • mikeSchilling

    Asia Minor in the first map isn particularly instructive, because you can learn a lot from Lydia.

  • Peterr

    The phrase “bloviating tone” is both highly accurate and a wonderful descriptor of a huge red flag for any dissertation that might occasion its use.

    I hope you have laid in sufficient stocks of your beverage of choice, or you’ll never make it to the end of this Magnum Opus.

    • jdkbrown

      Shouldn’t that be magnum dopus?

      • David Allan Poe

        From the excerpts we’ve seen, more like magnum nopus.

  • AT

    Enlightening read. So much so that I was curious who the PhD mentor was that signed off. Interestingly, he had two, an “internal” Hungarian and an “external” American. I seriously wonder if either actually read the dissertation. Maybe not required in the Hungarian system?

    Bio on the Hungarian here at Hungarian Spectrum, says András Lánczi is, “Perhaps his best known work is his Conservative Manifesto (2002). He is the leading exponent of neo-conservatism in Hungary.”

    Stephen Sloan is Distinguished Prof at UCF, who apparently held or holds an adjunct at Temple University’s mouthful of a Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy. The name of that august body reminds me of the leftist joke about Stanford’s Hoover Institution of War, Revolution and Peace: “at least they got the order right.” Maybe Gorka got his brevity from his mentor; in 2006 Sloan published a book, Terrorism: The Present Threat in Context,” which is 192 pages and described in the liner notes as “a concise history of terrorism since the French Revolution.”

    Has Gorka published anything academically since his elevation to the rank of doctor by the academy?

    • Lurker

      This is a very likely explanation. The quality of academic dissertations is based on peer-review. Essentially, it means that two or three professors agreeing about the expected standard are – in practice if not in theory – able to set that standard.

      As far as I see, Gorka was essentially writing a text that calls for unitary executive and a despotic model of administration. (Calling this “flattened”.) This is very much the correct result if your supervisors are of the ilk Gorka had. So, considering that the level of neo-conservative academic writing is rather low even in the best cases, Gorka’s advisors were probably right at considering this work to be doctoral-level writing inside the neo-conservative bubble. (Huntington and Fukuyama are not much more scholarly.) After all, any third party that would try to read the dissertation would be inside the same bubble.

      The self-corrective action of science is slow and allows these kinds of bubbles to fester. In fact, it is us who are actualising the self-correction; we are the free, public, open debate that ruthlessly attacks Gorka’s writing for its bad quality. And even we would not be discussing Gorka, had he not been given a high governmental position by the opposing party. However, our criticism of Gorka will probably have the result of future conservative dissertations becoming better in their writing and methodology.

    • Bitter Scribe

      As a proud Stanford grad, I have to issue the obligatory correction:

      It is not, I repeat not not NOT, “Stanford’s Hoover Institution.”

      The Hoover Institution is physically located on Stanford’s campus but otherwise has nothing to do with the university. Different directors. Different funding. Different missions.

      The HI has been a blight on Stanford’s face for decades. Alumnae have agitated for years to get it the fuck out of there, but apparently there’s some sort of ironclad lease agreement that can’t be budged.

  • Dr. Acula

    Arkwright: You look all sinister and Hungarian.

    Granville: Hungarians don’t look like this.

    Arkwright: Badly-dressed Hungarians do.

    Granville: I look like an idiot.

    Arkwright: Yes.

  • Calming Influence

    Jeeze, everybody in the world knows I the least likely person to kick a person when they’re down, but “diagram two” is phenomenally trivial even before it is mislabeled a “Venn diagram”.

  • CP

    Ah, but he said Venn diagram LIKE not literally. So checkmate, libz!

  • wengler

    This shit is dumb and likely wouldn’t have passed muster in my undergraduate political science classes, but political science in the US is full of this stupid shit. This is a field where Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and Fukuyama’s The End of History were taken seriously by many.

  • rea

    I remember who this Gorka guy is now. He’s the guy who silenced reporters asking impertinent questions during Romney’s visit to Auschwitz by saying, “Kiss my ass! This is a holy site!”

    What a phrase-maker!

    • That was Rick Gorka. I can’t tell if they’re related.

      I have to admit, I always sympathized with that. The question he was responding to was literally “What about your gaffes?” I’d probably say “kiss my ass” in response to that, too.

  • Dalai Rasta

    The Gorka Dissertation sounds like the title of a Ludlum novel.

  • Pingback: The Gorka Dissertation, Part III - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money()

It is main inner container footer text