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Clark Stooksbury correctly objects to Jonah Goldberg’s recent (mis)characterisation of Crunchy Cons and Rod Dreher. Goldberg had lumped Rod in together with Michael Gerson and saying that “both of these derive from the kind of thinking that led George W. Bush to insist in 2000 that he was a “different kind of Republican” because he was a “compassionate conservative” — a political program that apparently measures compassion by how much money the government spends on education, marriage counseling and the like.” This is just badly wrong. There’s no other way to say it.
Rod responds here. I had noticed the same thing, but at first it was such a minor part of Goldberg’s column that I didn’t want to rehash the same old arguments over what was almost a throwaway line. I really didn’t feel compelled at the time to point out (yet again) that Goldberg misunderstands what Rod has been talking about, but it occurs to me that this excerpt illustrates what seems to be a recurring pattern in Goldberg’s writing. On more than one occasion, he has conflated very different ideas on the right and claimed that they are very closely related, when their only point of contact is that they both represent something other than current establishment conservatism. Thus the proponents of Sam’s Club Republicanism can be bizarrely identified with the politics of Sam Francis, and now the ideas of Gerson and Dreher can be traced back to the same source. This might not be terribly interesting to most people, except that this also appears to be what Goldberg has done in his book Liberal Fascism with the two non-conservative ideologies mentioned in the title. There may be substantive similarities between liberalism and fascism in certain respects, and it is correct to identify fascism as a leftist ideology, but at a certain point specific differences matter and fine distinctions become important for understanding how two sets of ideas that may share a few assumptions lead people to significantly different conclusions and actions. Those distinctions become important for understanding why Dollfuss and Schuschnigg or Metaxas, for example, may have been conservative authoritarians, but they were definitely not fascists despite some superficial similarities or a shared interest in corporatist economics, and they remain just as important for understanding what FDR and Wilson were and were not. Conflating or identifying two significantly different things, as it seems Goldberg tends to do, ultimately makes for very unedifying intellectual analysis. These conflations suggest either some misunderstanding of the matters at hand or a polemical goal of lumping together various political adversaries in order to associate all opponents with the errors of those assumed to be the worst.
This history is directly relevant to modern debates. In some conservative quarters we are seeing the return of Burkeanism — or at least a narrow version of it. These supposed Burkeans dismiss the promotion of democracy and human rights as “ideological,” the protection of human life and dignity as “theological,” and compassionate conservatism as a modern heresy.
But the compassionate conservatism of Wilberforce and Shaftesbury is just as old as Burke, and more suited to an American setting. American conservatives, after all, are called upon to conserve a liberal ideal — that all men are created equal. A conservatism that does not accommodate the “ideology” of the Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. will seem foreign to most Americans. A concern for the rights of the poor and vulnerable is not simply “theological”; it is a measure of our humanity. And skepticism in this noble cause is not sophistication; it seems more like exhaustion and cynicism. ~Michael Gerson
But neo-Jacobinism, which is what Gerson is implicitly defending, is ideological in the worst way. The promotion of “democracy and human rights” that relies on coercion and interference in the affairs of other nations is not simply ideologically driven, but divorced from basic precepts of justice. One marvels at Gerson’s claim to represent the cause that supports the “protection of human life and dignity,” when it was he who lent his pen and his words to the unleashing of a living hell upon the people of Iraq. The insight of Burke was not simply that change must be gradual and in keeping with the customs of a people, but that revolutionary change, change wrought by violence, the very kind of change Gerson has himself promoted, is inherently desructive of social order, morality and the welfare of the people in whose name it is being done. Burkeans are as concerned with the practical means for pursuing the Good as they are with the high-minded intention to do good.
Why Wilberforce and Shaftesbury are more suited to an American setting, Gerson never explains, but just asserts. Conservatives are actually called on to conserve a constitutional tradition and a system of ordered liberty; you could fill a small room with the books and treatises that explain why conservatives, yes, American conservatives, are not dedicated to preserving the idea contained in that most infelicitous of phrases. What is striking about this article is how Gerson wraps up the actual practice of ”compassionate conservatism” of the last six years in the legacy of men such as Wilberforce and Shaftesbury, as if what the “compassionate conservatives” have done in government can be compared with the kinds of work they did. The thinking seems to be: they valued human dignity and we, the compassionate conservatives, also claim to value human dignity, so they must be our forerunners, and we can appropriate their achievements for our cause. Shaftesbury combated the exploitation of child labour and the inhumane treatment of the insane. “Compassionate conservatism” in practice has meant zealous support for the importation of cheap, exploited labour and an apparent indifference to the human trafficking that goes on across our borders.–in the name of Christian charity and brotherhood no less! Wilberforce worked tirelessly to turn the power of the British state against the slave trade, which led to the employment of the British Navy in eliminating this trade. “Compassionate conservatism” in practice has meant aggressive warfare, the ruination of whole nations and the displacement of millions of people from their homes. Because Wilberforce and Shaftesbury actually acted compassionately, Gerson believes he can tie “compassionate conservatism” to their legacy, yet where they were gradualists and men who respected laws of man and God “compassionate conservatives” have been radicals with a rather more mixed record.
I’ve been slow in getting together a response to Brooks’ latest (sorry, Rod), which I read just a little while ago via Sullivan. The general argument makes sense: those who possess a traditional conservative mentality or temperament, the Burkean conservatives, are disillusioned by the reign of abstraction among the various factions of the GOP. So far, so good. He then uses this to explain the GOP’s political reverse:
To put it bluntly, over the past several years, the G.O.P. has made ideological choices that offend conservatism’s Burkean roots. This may seem like an airy-fairy thing that does nothing more than provoke a few dissenting columns from William F. Buckley, George F. Will and Andrew Sullivan. But suburban, Midwestern and many business voters are dispositional conservatives more than creedal conservatives. They care about order, prudence and balanced budgets more than transformational leadership and perpetual tax cuts. It is among these groups that G.O.P. support is collapsing.
Perhaps it is implicit in the rest of the column, but Brooks does not seem to stress enough that the reason why GOP support among these groups is collapsing is that ideologically driven policies take little account of present realities and attempt to shoehorn society into an imagined model. GOP support isn’t simply collapsing because its increasingly ideological nature offends the temperamental conservatives in America, but because the policies it has managed to implement have generally failed even on their own terms. It is in no small part ideology’s hostility to reality and the repeated, doomed attempts to force reality to conform to absurd expectations that makes the temperamental conservative flee from it.
There are also some problems with Brooks’ remarks on several of the examples of ”what the temperamental conservative believes,” and a whopping great problem with his final sentences when he says:
American conservatism will never be just dispositional conservatism. America is a creedal nation. But American conservatism is only successful when it’s in tension — when the ambition of its creeds is retrained by the caution of its Burkean roots.
Some may even call me ideological for insisting on this point, but America isn’t a creedal nation. I don’t think such a thing can exist. More to the point, talk of a nation existing as a creedal nation is itself an ideological assertion, an attempt to construct a national identity that can be defined in abstract terms and whose membership is defined by adherence to abstract propositions. To describe a nation as creedal is to a very large extent deny that “the individual is a part of a social organism and thrives only within the attachments to family, community and nation that precede choice.” First and foremost, the confessing of a creed is an act of will, which means that a creed is something chosen. If organic relationship defines our membership in a nation, creedalism is, at best, redundant or a bit of rhetorical icing on an already-baked cake, and at worst an attempt to repudiate the unchosen attachments and obligations to people and country in an effort to broaden or “open” national membership to whomever feels inclined to profess the creed.
It seems to me that this creedalism, which refers to an imaginary creedal nation, is one of the sources of the conservative predicament today. Indeed, Brooks’ agrees that it is part of the problem. However, he believes that it is only because of the excesses of these supposed “conservative creeds” that things have gone awry, and not the insistence on creedalism itself.
There are also a number of other difficulties with the way that Brooks advances this argument.
There is a problem with the choice of words that stems from the prior acceptance of creedalism: he describes the rise of various ideologies as the result of conservatism in America “becoming creedal” (because America is “creedal”). This might give someone the impression that the lover of prudence and small platoons doesn’t actually believe (credo, credere) anything, lest he, too, becomes attached to a creed, but relies on tradition, prejudice and instinct alone. The word creed has long been conventionally applied to a certain brand of nationalist ideology that I just talked about, but actually I think the word creed is ill-suited to describe it, and could actually be impious.
Its religious and specifically Christian origins lead the person who uses it for a political identity to one of a few undesirable results: he either conflates his political cause with a religious creed, losing the merits of both, or he replaces his own religious creed with that cause, or he invests a political cause with godlike authority. The implications of having a “national creed” are also rather worrisome, since it means that anyone who fails to embrace a certain set of ideas, usually political ideas, cannot be a member of the nation. Like the religious creed from which this language of creeds derives, a national creed implies anathematisation for those who do not confess it. A political creed cannot help but be ideological. I am less certain that the same can be said about religious beliefs.
Brooks’ talk of creeds allows him to include religious conservatives among the ideologues, but they do not belong to the phenomenon he is describing. He writes:
Over the past decade, religious conservatives within the G.O.P. have argued that social policies should be guided by the eternal truths of natural law [bold mine-DL] and that questions about stem cell research and euthanasia should reflect the immutable sacredness of human life.
But temperamental conservatives are suspicious of the idea of settling issues on the basis of abstract truth. These kinds of conservatives hold that moral laws emerge through deliberation and practice and that if legislation is going to be passed that slows medical progress, it shouldn’t be on the basis of abstract theological orthodoxy [bold mine-DL].
Brooks is right that temperamental conservatives are wary of “settling issues” on the basis of “abstract truth.” Put this way, most religious conservatives might also recoil from such settlements. An essential element to religious conservatives’ thinking is that they believe God is the author of both natural and moral law and that they are necessarily complementary (just as truth is one, divine, natural and moral law are ultimately one). Further, they would, and I think they do, argue that man discerns natural law through observation, rational deliberation and reflection no less than he does the moral law, and they would also hold that these are confirmed by revelation. In someone of a conservative temperament, this does entail a fanatical and terrible simplification of the difficulties and complexities of contingent circumstances, but instead provides the guiding moral principle that informs and shapes all prudential judgements appropriate to the given case. Moral casuistry is not situationalist ethics or relativism, and it cannot proceed without a grounding in eternal verities. It was Kirk, the interpreter of Burke, who held that an essential element of the conservative mind was the recognition of a “transcendent moral order.” I believe Kirk would have found the description of conscience–our moral sense integrally bound to natural law–and what Newman called “the illative sense” as a species of abstraction to be completely wrong.
But McCain was precisely correct to say that Judeo-Christian values were a cornerstone of Enlightenment thinking that led men like Madison, Jefferson and Adams to believe in individual autonomy [bold mine-DL].
These men were critical of some aspects of Christianity. But to deny that Christian principles were a powerful force behind the founding of this nation, from the impulse to flee Europe to the justification for war to the guiding principles at the Constitutional Convention [bold mine-DL], is to deny historical reality.
The political thinking of the Founders was profoundly shaped by Christian teaching. Pointing that out would hardly be controversial were not so many people irrationally afraid of religion in general and Christianity in particular. But as John Adams said, men “may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.” ~ New Hampshire Union-Leader
That first paragraph is remarkable. Naturally, I don’t agree. Far more overreaching than anything McCain said, which was ridiculous mostly because it was McCain saying it, the editorial maintains that “Judeo-Christian values were a cornerstone of Enlightenment thinking.” To which I respond: “what part of the Enlightenment do we mean?” I have been known to refer very broadly and negatively to “the Enlightenment,” when I am really objecting principally to political and social theories of Locke, Voltaire and Rousseau, and I have been reminded on a few occasions that it is worth keeping in mind the differences between Enlightenment thinkers. Here this is especially worth doing.
Leibniz, for example, was probably the closest to matching the image of an Aufklaerer who also respected what the editorial calls “Judeo-Christian values” (which is still pretty far removed from being “profoundly shaped by Christian teaching”), but he was an early figure and not representative of the kind of thought that influenced the Founding generation. Algernon Sydney’s Discourse Concerning Government, which had a great influence on 18th century colonial political thought, is a weighty tome replete with references to Scripture, but it is not so much “profoundly influenced by Christian teaching” as it is Whig political philosophy trying to shield itself against Filmer with the Bible. It is difficult to say that Harrington and Bolingbroke, significant for us because of their influence on Montesqieu and the later Country tradition, were “profoundly influenced by Christian teaching” beyond the reality that they belonged to Christian confessions and lived in a culture that was steeped in Christianity. In my modern Greek history class, I could also say that Moisiodax and Korais were “profoundly influenced by Christian teaching”–profoundly influenced, that is, to run away from that teaching when it conflicted with their philosophical and political programs. In general, wherever people have been ”profoundly influenced by Christian teaching” they have had no time for prattle about natural rights, the social contract and “individual autonomy.” It seems right and good to me that they should respond in this way. Understandably, Christians try to construct some preeminent place for Christianity in the story of “the Founding,” which has itself been given quasi-mystical status by nationalist historians and ideologues, because they have come to recognise that it is only through having a claim to being a key part of “the Founding” that they will be permitted to have any real role in a system dominated by Americanist/proposition nation ideology. The problem lies not so much with attempts to baptise ”the Founding” as with the distorted and ideological treatment of the early republican period by later nationalist politicians and historians. If Americanism and American identity itself are to be defined by political propositions, as the adherents of the proposition nation view would have it, it becomes necessary for people to interpret ”the Founding” in a such a way that their beliefs are discovered as the ultimate sources of those propositions.
As a recent instructor of mine was fond of saying, let’s take this step by step. It makes sense to describe America as a Christian nation in the following ways:
1) Anglo-American culture, what Russell Kirk referred to as our “British culture,” owes an enormous debt to European Christianity and is inconceivable without it. North American colonial societies were and are derived from European and Christian civilisation and ultimately belong to that civilisation. Christianity was a public religion and was, at the state level, an established religion in one form or another in many of the colonies, and this arrangement prevailed for many decades after independence. Those who think they have found justification in the early republican period for their drive to push religion into the corner and isolate it from public life don’t know what they’re talking about.
2) It is not possible to understand the evolution of America’s “language of liberty” without referring back to the 17th century religiously-charged constitutional struggles of the British Isles. In this sense, our constitutional inheritance, which was at the heart of the War for Independence, depended on and derived from precedents that were set during a civil war that had both political and religious dimensions.
However, the constitutional settlement that emerged out of these conflicts involved to a very large extent the complete abandonment of all political theology. Any endorsement of ideas of “individual autonomy” would represent a significant departure from “Christian principles.” “Judeo-Christian values,” fairly meaningless phrase that it is in this formulation, do not lead anyone to believe in individual autonomy. On the contrary, whether in the Old Testament or the New, what we call individual autonomy is what Scripture defines as sin and pride. Scripture is brimming with commands for social obligation, fraternity, charity, self-sacrifice and the corporate unity of the People of God. Traditional Christian social teaching does not recognise an idea of “individual autonomy.” Unity in the Body of Christ does not obliterate distinctions and personality, but it does preclude autonomy of any kind. Enlightenment social theories along these lines were considered–and were–subversive because they contradicted the Christian teaching that allegedly so profoundly influenced the thought of Jefferson (!). It should be enough that Jefferson was a great proponent of decentralism and liberty; we should not need to remake him into a crypto-theologian to appreciate his contribution to our country.
It is correct to observe that Christian respect for the dignity and integrity of the human person and scholastic arguments on natural law paved the way for later applications of these reflections in political and legal reform. It is true, as studies of the rhetoric of the Revolution have shown, that the use of originally religious language of covenants, which had already been introduced into political discourse during the English civil war, shaped broader popular understanding of the patriot cause more than did familiarity with Lockean contractual theory. It is true that the broad mass of the population of the colonies was made up of professing Christians. In this sense, the people constituted a nation of Christians. To the extent that they still do, they may be called a Christian nation. As Dr. Fleming said on this subject:
The United States was never a ‘Christian country’ in a confessional sense, though it was once a nation of mostly Christians.
Sigh. It’s enough to make you despair for your “national coalition,” also known as a “country.” It never fails to amaze me how those who are keen to talk about the constructed nature of identity and social conventions seem to think that it is therefore somehow illegitimate to maintain identities and conventions once they have been constructed. The key idea of constructivism is that we are the ones shaping and crafting the concepts we use, and that they supposedly do not derive from the nature of things. If that is so, and for the sake of argument let’s say that it is, it is ultimately no more “abhorrent” in a firm, absolute sense for one group to exclude outsiders than it is for another to include them–both kinds of treatment of outsiders serve different functions, and the kind of treatment you advocate depends very much on which function you value more and which one you think you can live without. Those who are already uninterested in the maintenance of national identity will naturally have no problem with welcoming in outsiders by the millions and tens of millions–they have made the great sacrifice of not maintaining something they didn’t value–while simultaneously declaring their greater moral sense for valuing inclusion.
The unchosen obligations, which are still imposed on us and affect us even when we react against them by rejecting them, that the liberal wants to weaken actually serve both manifest and latent functions, and it is on account of this that they are reproduced. Failing to maintain and reproduce them does actually lead to social disorder, which the liberal desperately tries to normalise and affirm as just a “different” kind of social organisation. The vast majority of human experience tells us that there is something in human nature that compels us to cultivate in-group solidarity, construct identities in opposition to other groups of people and structure relatively restrictive social rules to organise our group. Any of these things can be taken to extremes, and they can also be badly neglected. In the current age of neglect, “society” continues to trudge on in one form or another, but the social costs stemming from neglecting those old unchosen obligations have badly damaged our capacity for creating social capital.
Excesses in either direction will undermine human flourishing. Of course, confusion sets in at the beginning when you begin making liberty the baseline of judging whether or not something is desirable. Mr. Wilkinson has successfully shown once again that he hates boundary maintenance–both of the physical and the metaphorical kind–and that conservatives favour it, which is why he isn’t a conservative. Very illuminating.
Americanism is the set of beliefs that has always held this country together in its large embrace. Americanism calls for liberty, equality, and democracy for all mankind. And it urges this nation to promote the American Creed wherever and whenever it can–to be the shining city on a hill, the “last, best hope of earth.” Ultimately, Americanism is derived from the Bible [bold mine-DL]. The Bible itself has been a grand unifying force in American society, uniting Christians of many creeds from Eastern Orthodox to Unitarian, and Jews, and Bible-respecting deists like Thomas Jefferson–and many others who respect and honor the Bible whatever their own religious beliefs. ~David Gelernter
Simply ridiculous. What can I say? Do Jews respect the Septuagint? Are they unified behind the New Testament? Jefferson “respected” the Bible the way that a butcher “respects” the carcass of an animal–he chopped up the New Testament and kept the bits of the Gospels that he thought were suitably “rational,” which leads me to note that my WWTW colleague Paul Cella has a good post on Gelernter’s latest. Paul’s Marcion reference is very good, since Gelernter is a modern gnostic of sorts, and the reference to Marcion makes the comparison with Jefferson only too obvious. If Marcionites, too, might be counted in the broad church of ”Bible-respecting” folk, we can see just how utterly meaningless such respect is.
Gelernter’s article is something amazing to behold. It combines almost every hateful aspect of nationalism and every piece of degraded thinking shared by war supporters today. It blithely confuses opponents of particular wars with adherents of doctrinaire pacifism, a view that virtually no one in this country holds today. Anyone who opposes the war in Iraq knows all too well how idiotic it is to try to describe the leadership of the modern Democratic Party as pacifistic. If they were, they might at least have the stomach to try to end this war outright, and, of course, they do not. Gelernter sets a new standard for unintentional irony by damning globalism in the pages of The Weekly Standard, a flagship of globaloney if ever there was one. There is, of course, the required mockery of France and the obligatory nod to Joe Lieberman, and every other intellectually lazy rhetorical move that we have come to expect from neoconservatives. It is really quite dreadful.
Consider this bit of Gelernter’s “reasoning”:
You might argue that World War II has nothing to do with Iraq; after all, the Japanese started the fight by attacking our fleet at Pearl Harbor. But even the Japanese never succeeded in slaughtering civilians on the U.S. mainland. And those who think that our war in Iraq has nothing to do with the 9/11 murderers, or their friends whose ultimate target is America, are living in Fantasyland.
Actually, one might argue that WWII has nothing to do with Iraq because WWII ended over sixty years ago and was fought in entirely different parts of the world against radically different enemies. As for living in a fantasy, I expect that Gelernter would know all about that by now.
This is really a shame. Some years ago I heard good things about Gelernter’s Drawing Life (perhaps I heard incorrectly?), and I imagined that because of his personal experience he would have to have been keenly aware of the dangers of ideological fanaticism and the glorification of violence as a means of change. Apparently he has come to different conclusions.
Gelernter’s article is just a rehashed version of his new book’s thesis as applied to the latest political controversy, in this case the fight over Petraeus’ testimony. It confirms my impression that Gelernter’s book does not simply try to describe the idea of “Americanism.” A description and analysis of the idea might not indicate any approval of the thing being described. He might have written a book about Americanism describing the “Americanist heresy” and could have been quite hostile to it, but, of course, this is David Gelernter we’re talking about. Far from opposing the heresy, he seems interested in becoming its latest heresiarch. He is interested in championing his brand of Americanism quite actively, even if that means grossly distorting or oversimplifying American history, among other things, in the process. It also seems to mean extolling the virtues of every military conflict of the last century, going out of his way to defend the merits of the most astonishingly futile of wars. He manages to find words of praise for British intervention in WWI (!), which even one so belligerent as Niall Ferguson was sane enough to recognise as an unparalleled national disaster for Britain. Perhaps if more leaders in 1914 had belonged to the mythical church of appeasement that Gelernter has invented in this latest exercise in lame, shabby Europe-bashing, European civilisation would not have come crashing down in an orgy of bloodshed–not that I expect him to care about the fate of European civilisation, since he seems to loathe Europeans so intensely.
From the book description of Americanism:
If America is a religion, it is a religion without a god, and it is a global religion. People who believe in America live all over the world. Its adherents have included oppressed and freedom-loving peoples everywhere—from the patriots of the Greek and Hungarian revolutions to the martyred Chinese dissidents of Tiananmen Square.
Conflating one’s country with nationalist ideology is bad enough, but to imagine that your ideological nation is itself the font of a “religion,” and that Americanism is ”derived from the Bible” at that, is so perverse that words fail me.
I had a response to this all worked out, but I will hold my fire this time. Instead, I will point you all to my colleagues Paul and Zippy at WWWTW, who offer their much more even-tempered responses to recent critics. They make the right points, and I agree with their remarks entirely.
Following on Zippy’s remarks, I would just include this one section from my unpublished post:
There is, of course, a legitimate hierarchy of loyalties that a professing Christian can and should respect. One no less than Aquinas has laid out how natural loyalties to kindred, friends, neighbours and fellow citizens appropriately take precedence over loyalties to other, more remotely related people. Loyalty and obligation to fellow citizens would take precedence over duties owed to foreign citizens, but the duty to treat all men justly in wartime is something owed to God. As my colleague Zippy is a very serious Catholic (and it is this, I think, that is really what bothers his critics), he would probably have no difficulty acknowledging and affirming such an idea.
The rights of the siloviki, however, have nothing to do with the formal kind that are spelled out in laws or in the constitution. What they are claiming is a special mission to restore the power of the state, save Russia from disintegration and frustrate the enemies that might weaken it. Such idealistic sentiments, says Mr Kondaurov, coexist with an opportunistic and cynical eagerness to seize the situation for personal or institutional gain. ~The Economist
This is what accounts of a resurgent Russia often miss, as I have argued before. Whether it is self-justification and rationalisation or genuine conviction, or some measure of both, Putin and the siloviki are both keenly interested in gaining and expanding their power and in achieving their goals of restoring what they see as Russia’s proper place in the world. They are nationalists because they are power-hungry, but to some extent they are also interested in power for themselves because they believe, for good or ill, that they can restore national power. Dismissing any of them as cynical and greedy misses the point: they are cynical and greedy because they are ideologues, and they probably think their “correct” beliefs entitle them to rewards.
This Lilia Shevtsova column makes a claim that is not all wrong:
The key reason behind the crisis is the failure of the post-Soviet liberal project and the return to a hyper-centralised state. In order to justify the about-turn, the political elite needs an enemy.
I would not discount external challenges, whether perceived or real, as part of the cause for the turn back towards a “hyper-centralised state,” and I would certainly not lay the responsibility for the crisis in Western-Russian relations solely at the door of Russia. The Russians did not compel us to bomb Yugoslavia, occupy Kosovo or withdraw from the ABM Treaty. Washington did those things despite knowing how much it would disturb the Russians. Obviously, they did not make us incorporate eastern Europe into NATO, nor did they push us into backing what are effectively puppet regimes in Georgia and Ukraine, and they also did not force us to announce the deployment of weapons systems to central Europe. The “failure of the post-Soviet liberal project” also had something to do with the political and moral bankruptcy of said project as it was actually implemented, and since the “liberal project” was connected to the advice and assistance of Westerners it was inevitable that its failure would sour people on future Western meddling. Further, the fact that Americans and western Europeans may not see things this way or reject this reaction as irrational is irrelevant–if this is how Russians remember and view these events, this is what matters for understanding what motivates their actions.
Later, Shevtsova allows for some of this:
The West is also to blame for the current crisis through its failure to integrate Russia at the beginning of the 1990s. Instead, the West - mainly America - has merely presented the Russian elite with a series of pretexts to help perpetuate that “enemy image”.
Where Shevtsova’s column fails to persuade is when it retreats to the mythical realm of “values” and pretends that the West has been too generous and understanding of Moscow over the last 15 years. The idea that Westerners need to be more united in a common front of value-exporting intrusiveness seems absurd and dangerous. I agree that integration with Europe, to which Russia properly belongs, should be the goal, but Shevtsova insists that the terms of the integration be set in such a way as to make integrating Russia in the near future all but impossible, and here I think she makes another mistake.
Any student of the history of Russia, or indeed of almost any country, must be aware that centralisation of power is very often a response to perceived and/or real external threats, or centralisation will be justified in terms of providing the government greater ability to respond to threats in the future. If the Russian elite did not think that the West was encroaching on its sphere of influence and attempting to encircle it, it might be less inclined to embrace this concentration of power. In any case, the memory of domestic chaos and lawlessness is another factor behind the push for centralised control.
It is certainly not sufficient to see this crisis in relations as the outgrowth of only one side’s attempted power grab. If the Russian elite is making a power grab at home and in its near-abroad, the U.S. and NATO are making a power grab abroad in and around Russia. The latter feeds the former by providing the authoritarian nationalist with a plausible foreign threat (which can then be tied together with a more generic opposition to U.S. policy elsewhere in the world, lending a different sort of respectability to Russian intransigence, which in turn has the notable effect of making Russia more respected in the world than America). Those in the West who are most agitated by Putin’s authoritarian practices are doing their very best with all their shouting and complaining to confirm Russians’ worst suspicions about Western hostility and interference in Russian internal affairs. Whipping up hostility towards Russia encourages nationalist, anti-American reactions there–this has been and will continue to be the end result of neoconservative, liberal and libertarian critiques of Putin. Those in the West who are most upset by the excesses of Putin are doing their very best to ensure that the rift between Russia and the West will widen and deepen, which is in the long-term interests of neither and serves to distract us with old conflicts when we have much more pressing concerns elsewhere in the world. These Putin critics are actually encouraging the very things they purport to despise by casting them in the ludicrous framework of a malevolent and aggressive Russia that poses a threat to its neighbours and the West.
Our political elite has needed to find new enemies as much as the Russian elite has, and actually even more because they have that much more power and prestige bound up in the structures of U.S. hegemony. Resuming a rivalry and renewing hostility with a state with which you have no real conflicts of interest are foolish things to be doing, unless you regard any other world power as a threat to your own predominance. The crisis in relations stems in part from recent Russian resurgence and the Western, and specifically American, refusal to accept Russia’s attempt to once again play an active, sometimes contrary, role in world affairs.
The Russian elite does not see the West as a real threat, but is deliberately describing the West as the bogeyman for its domestic needs. The Kremlin’s chest-beating and repetition of the litany of grudges towards the West has multiple purposes: it is a means to justify backtracking, a way to consolidate support around the regime, a loyalty test for the elite and a technique to conceal the true reasons behind the crisis [bold mine-DL].
Suppose for the sake of argument that this is true–what difference does this make for the Western policymaker? Whether they are doing it to play to the crowd at home to shore up their own power or are “genuinely” worried about Western encroachment, our response should be tailored to suit the proper security interests of both countries in such a way that reduces the chance for conflict and improves mutual relations. Our vital interests do not dictate any great concern over who rules in Kiev, for example, while the Russians are decidedly unhappy with any sign of meddling or attempts to incorporate Ukraine into Western security and political institutions. This is because they want to dictate who governs in Kiev, and we all know that, so why needlessly agitate another major power over something that does not actually matter to us? This is the question that the Putin and Russia critics seem to be unable to answer, because their own excessive protestations about withering Russian democracy and freedom are typically masks for their own preoccupation with justifying the policies that so disturb the Kremlin. Even when they are themselves sincere in their motives in drawing Western attention to the internal affairs of another country (something that never ceases to puzzle and amaze me), their statements are routinely used to justify the worst courses of action against that country.
Consider Shevtsova’s description of the rationale for the Russian elite’s complaints against the West and then compare it to our own political and media classes. In much the same way, I could say: complaints about authoritarianism in Russia and Russian “bullying” of its neighbours have nothing to do with American security concerns, and only very rarely stem from any great concern over Russian democracy or the independence of an Estonia or Georgia. They are used to justify continued American meddling in the region, consolidate support around our broken Russia policy, provide a loyalty test for members of the establishment and to distract observers from the real goals of that establishment in pressing for NATO expansion or democracy promotion. All of this could be true and it would still not detract from the rhetorical and political power of the ideological arguments in favour of using American power to spread freedom and democracy, nor would it mean that the interventionists in question do not believe in certain political abstractions, just as cynical domestic political reasons for Russian complaints against Western behaviour are not necessarily separate from actual concerns about national security and nationalist resentments against perceived foreign threats.
Ideology and the desire for consolidating power are not distinct or opposed things, but are deployed in a complementary way. Cynical elites deploy nationalism or some other ideology to acquire and keep power, but they also develop an attachment to a certain ideology because they believe it is the best for acquiring and keeping power, which makes it appear true to the elites. Militant democratists actually do believe in some sort of democratic politics, but the same genuine believers can also be fairly cynical hegemonists who think that promoting this kind of politics and promoting national and their own power are perfectly compatible things. They are wrong about this latter point in practice, but we would protest in vain that they do not “really” believe in some kind of democracy. They believe in it to the extent that they think expressing support for it will enable them to wield influence and power at home, and they are very keen to do these things, which means that they are frighteningly real believers in this kind of politics.
This is the dangerous thing about ideologues in power and powerful people who adopt ideology: the former always find a way to justify their wielding power through some interpretation of the ideology, and the latter legitimise whatever they have done or want to do with their power by appealing to some abstract ideal. At some point, posing as if you have a nationalist grievance and “actually” having a nationalist grievance cease to be different things. For all intents and purposes when it comes to making policy, you are supporting certain policies as if you were a nationalist. The nationalist is doing this to shore up your power at home, but that doesn’t mean that he does not at some level come to accept the substance of the rhetoric and the critique of foreign threat. Furthermore, if agitating against a foreign threat is the bread and butter of the nationalist, how better to deflate the appeal of that nationalism than for Westerners to denounce the counterproductive, senseless policies that fuel resentment and suspicion (or which serve as useful pretexts for whipping up a sense of resentment and suspicion)? Obviously, the worst response is to moan and cry about the authoritarian nationalism itself directly and repeatedly, since this serves, in this context, to confirm in the mind of many ordinary Russians that the foreign critics are actually hostile to Russia and the Russian people themselves.
If Jefferson’s vision were only an ideology of self-congratulation, it would never have inspired Americans to do the hard work of reducing the gap between dream and reality.
I know it is redundant to say that the things Ignatieff says do not make sense, but this one stood out for me as exceptionally poor.
Ideologies of self-congratulation are the ones that win support and paint flattering pictures of the people who adhere to them. That is an essential part of any ideology, and if Ignatieff is going to insult Thomas Jefferson by attributing an ideology to him he should at least recognise that “ideologies of self-congratulation” are the kind that spread, endure and, yes, inspire better than any others. By planting supposedly high-minded, abstract notions in the minds of adherents, modern ideology typically reassures its followers that they are on the cutting edge of progress, the pioneers of a new world and a new age or in some other way superior and unbeatable. This then gives them the confidence to go forth and do things to make these abstractions reality, which frequently involve destroying a great many things and killing many people, which they might have shrunk from doing before they had been told that they were simply part of the direction of history. Ideologies of self-congratulation are precisely the kinds that inspire people to action and discourage the kind of sane humility and self-criticism that is necessary for a stable, humane society. This is why they are dangerous.
In “Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion,” David Gelernter, a Yale computer-science professor and a versatile and prolific public intellectual, makes a provocative claim: Such professions of faith express “belief in . . . a religious idea of enormous, transporting power.” Indeed, he contends that America “is a biblical republic and Americanism a biblical religion.”
This does not in any way detract, Gelernter is quick to clarify, from America’s commitment to religious freedom: Liberty, democracy and equality constitute the American Creed [bold mine-DL]. And Americanism entails a duty to not only realize these universal ideas at home, but to spread them around the world. ~Peter Berkowitz
It’s simply appalling in so many ways that I am at first overwhelmed. In the first place, the title is a little baffling (why the fourth?), until you realise that he must mean to include Islam as the third great “Western” religion, at which point we can already take it as a given that words mean nothing to the author. Then there is this bit from his book’s description:
Gelernter argues that what we have come to call “Americanism” is in fact a secular version of Zionism. Not the Zionism of the ancient Hebrews, but that of the Puritan founders who saw themselves as the new children of Israel, creating a new Jerusalem in a new world. Their faith-based ideals of liberty, equality, and democratic governance had a greater influence on the nation’s founders than the Enlightenment.
It is hard to say which is the worse part. You have this business about “secular Zionism” that is at once religious and not religious side by side with misrepresentations about ” faith-based ideals of…democratic governance” when referring to 17th century Calvinists along with a New England-centric spin on the whole of American identity, as if the Randolphs, Jeffersons, Morrises, Washingtons, Madisons and Pinckneys of the early republican era were guided by the zeal of New England Puritanism. Whether or not I dislike many things in the Enlightenment heritage of many of the Whig ideas at the core of the political philosophy of many of the Founders (and I do), I cannot pretend that it played second fiddle to some mythical Zionism. To the extent that this did exist at all and influenced American political life, the phenomenon he describes has very little to do with the establishment of the Republic and much more to do with the “refounding” or rather destruction of the same in the War. If this Americanism has as three of its patrons Lincoln, TR and Wilson, the question is not whether it is dangerous (since it clearly is), but whether it has so entered into the mainstream of American politics that it cannot now be expelled.
If “liberty, democracy and equality” constitute “the American Creed,” I am glad to say that many of the more esteemed Americans in our early history were only two-thirds or even one-third believers in it.
Then there is another item from the book description:
If America is a religion, it is a religion without a god, and it is a global religion. People who believe in America live all over the world. Its adherents have included oppressed and freedom-loving peoples everywhere—from the patriots of the Greek and Hungarian revolutions to the martyred Chinese dissidents of Tiananmen Square.
I don’t know what to call this except insane. There was another global godless political religion that sought to spread all over creation. Perhaps Gelernter has heard of it. As its fate reminds us, the Lord does not suffer such blasphemies to long endure. You cannot serve both God and Americanism.
This claim about the other peoples of the world is also shockingly presumptuous, even for someone of Gelernter’s policy views. It is as close to someone saying publicly that “inside everyone there is an American trying to get you” as I have ever seen in real life. This idea is often implied in what many democratists say, and it can be inferred from many of Mr. Bush’s major speeches, but most have the good sense not to say such things quite so bluntly. Quite obviously, the patriots of the Greek and Hungarian revolutions “believed” in Greece and Hungary, if we must use this language of “believing in” countries. (The physical places exist whether or not anyone believes in them, and the cultural distinctiveness of Greek and Hungarian would exist whether or not any political revolutionary ever “believed” in a national cause.) The latter made the mistake of trusting the shaky promises of foolish American ”rollback” advocates, but the heroes of 1956 did not “believe in America” or in Americanism. If they believed in an -ism, it might have been Hungarianism or something like it. Give Gelernter credit for a certain bizarre consistency: if all it takes to be an American is to buy into a few tired political slogans, anyone who embraces those slogans really must effectively be an American or at least an Americanist.
Then there is this last bit, which is just too funny:
Gelernter also shows that anti-Americanism, particularly the virulent kind that is found today in Europe, is a reaction against this religious conception of America on the part of those who adhere to a rival religion of pacifism and appeasement.
Or it might have something to do with prudential objections to policies that are perceived as dangerous and misguided. However, as we can all see, that’s obviously far too outlandish of an interpretation, so the “religion of appeasement” explanation will have to do. Does that mean that anti-Americans in Latin America and the Near East also belong to the broad church of appeasement? Hugo Chavez, pacifist–you heard it from Gelernter first! No wonder the description calls the argument “startlingly original.” I am startled that it even got published.
My Cliopatria post on David Halberstam’s final article is here.
The foundation published Ramadan’s book To Be a European Muslim in 1999, and it enjoyed a modest success. To Be a European Muslim was regarded as a thoughtful argument for healthy new relations between old-stock non-Muslim Europe and the new-stock immigrant Muslim population. Daniel Pipes in the United States was among the expert observers who offered applause–though, if you visit Pipes’s website, you will see that, ever since his initial review, Pipes has been posting additional remorseful observations about how wrong he was, and what could possibly have gotten into him? ~Paul Berman
Berman’s essay, which is more like a small book, on Tariq Ramadan may or may not be worth reading in full (I have just waded in and I am not sure that I will finish), but this remark about Pipes was interesting. Pipes is, of course, the embodiment of neocon Arabophobic Islamophilia. No, I’m not kidding. When they do not happen to live in the immediate vicinity of the Levant, Islamic fundamentalists have had few better allies–both conscious and unwitting–than neoconservatives.
Pipes himself peddles all the standard pro-Islamic myths or exaggerations: Islam as “religion of peace,” Islam as guardian of Greek learning in the middle ages, medieval Islamic civilisation as a Golden Age of rationality and tolerance, and so on and so forth. He is also ardently in favour of attempts to forcibly “reform” the Islamic world from the outside and supports all efforts to crush as many Arab states as possible in the process. He believes that Islam is essentially good, but has gone awry somewhere and must be pummeled and shaped by outside intervention to return to its pristine goodness. It is impossible to understand the creation of a word like “Islamofascism” without understanding just how deeply neocons have embraced this myth of the peaceful, enlightened Islamic world and their narrative of a small fraction of that world that has gone astray. While the word is intended to conflate and confuse multiple, mutually opposed groups and states, this conflation is done for specific policy reasons, one of which is to target all forces hostile to Israel and to create an ideological identifier for all of them. The word itself implies and its users constantly reiterate that Islam itself is fine and no problem at all; there is nothing inherent in it that should or could lead to what they called “Islamofascism.” As they are obsessed with telling us (and as Joseph Bottum insists on claiming again now, citing Bernard Lewis), modern jihadis are not just supposed to be theoretically totalitarian but can be tied to 20th century totalitarian ideologies as a matter of intellectual genealogy, and furthermore they will claim that jihadism is a political ideology. Hence Islamofascism, which is something that a secular audience can more readily grasp. Last year I proposed an explanation for why neocons do this:
For secular people like these prominent neocons, it is horrifying to consider the possibility that some people have motivations that cannot be explained in secular language, because they, lacking in religious imagination of any kind, are at a loss to even begin to really understand what motivates a jihadi. Even when they acknowledge the supposed goal of Paradise or the religious nature of the duty these people believe themselves to be carrying out, it is always with a certain level of incomprehension, almost as if they cannot really accept that anyone not attached to some intelligible ideology firmly bounded in this world really exists. Their inability to understand the religious desire for transcendence in some of its most appalling forms stems, I suspect, in no small part from their own depressingly optimistic and immanentist ideology. Their inability to understand a drive for religious purity and intolerance of other religions as anything other than fascism stems in part from their own reflexive commitments to religious pluralism and a latent or not-so-latent hostility to dogmatic Christianity: everything not on the side of pluralism and “freedom” somehow all gets pushed into a big box called fascism.
In any case, it is not surprising that Pipes would have had a soft spot for someone like Tariq Ramadan, especially pre-9/11, because in the late ’90s encouraging Muslim immigration into Europe (like encouraging Third World immigration into any Western country) was quite natural for neocons, who were, after all, leading advocates of intervening in the Balkans on behalf of Muslims (no bigoted Westerners were they!) and calling for Turkish entry into the EU. (The argument for Turkish entry was a twofer for the neocons: they were able to idealise a “democratic” Islamic country while also mocking the small-minded Europeans.) Just as they have winked and nodded approvingly at Chechen terrorism, they endorsed the entry of mujahideen into Europe for the greater glory of killing Serbs. Just as it had been fashionable in England to romanticise the Algerian rebel Abd al Qadir because he was killing Frenchmen (though they would take a rather dim view of locals rebelling against their authority some twenty-five years later), it became acceptable to write admiringly about the self-determination of Bosnian and Albanian Muslims. Neocon outrage against jihadis, such as it is, is really more that of a jilted lover than that of a dedicated foe. When they lament the jihadi threat, you can almost hear them saying, “Come on, guys, we’ve had such good times together. Remember when the KLA staged the Racak massacre and we pretended to believe it? That was great. We should get the gang back together.”
Dr. Dalrymple, sometimes TAC contributor and a thoughtful man, has an article in The New English Review comparing the thought of Marx and Qutb. He does hit on some similarities, which are the similarities of all utopianisms, but I am concerned that this sort of argument pave the way for the invention of the no less ridiculous idea of “Islamomarxism.” Are we really unable to approach the thought of a Sayyid Qutb without relying on the clumsy and inappropriate frameworks of 19th and 20th century European political thought? Are we incapable of seeing Qutb as an exponent of a religion? Of course, part of his religion involves a call to political power and the exercise of that power, but all of these things he advocates for reasons of his religion based on the requirements–as he sees them–of his religion. Trying to interpret it through the lens of secular ideologies will not get us very far.
But then there was an item that caught my attention. Dr. Dalrymple writes:
Is this Marx or Qutb speaking:
[there] is a natural struggle between two systems which cannot co-exist for long.
The answer is Qutb, but Dr. Dalrymple also notes the striking similarity between this statement and those of Marx and Marxists down through the years. However, this is not really evidence of some deeper affinity between Qutb and Marx. It is a reflection of the Manichean rhetoric employed by all fanatics and modern gnostics who insist on realising their version of the Kingdom here and now. You can see it in Lincoln’s claims that the Union cannot endure “half slave and half free.” Why couldn’t it endure? Because one side is going to insist that the other half cannot continue as it has been going. The impulse of the Freisinnigen is to “rationalise” everything and make uniform standards everywhere they can. (The same mentality appears whenever someone believes that such-and-such an issue is “too important” to be left to the states or local communities, which is basically a statement that federalism and decentralism are only good for handling minor and insignificant things, which is to doubly insult both.) If such-and-such a thing is intolerable or unacceptable in Maine, it must be considered so in Mississippi, and not just in Mississippi, but also eventually even in Mauritania and the Maldives. Presumably, infant car seat regulations in Bolivia are not up to code–taken to an extreme, the freethinker will consider this his problem, just as Obama believes that there is nothing on earth that is not related to the national security of the United States.
The entire notion of Iraq serving as the model of democratic reform leading to the regional transformation of the Near East is based on a related view that if there is one “successful” case of democratisation in a region, it will automatically spread and reproduce itself in neighbouring countries, as if political ideas and institutions were like viruses that could spread in this fashion. Indeed, democratists almost have to think of democracy as a kind of blight that will attack a monoculture of uniform despotism, simply wiping it out wherever it goes, which naturally takes no account of the diversity of cultures and peoples in the countries that they are trying to democratise. It might seem strange that democratists are probably the least qualified to spread democracy around the world, but it seems to be the case. Why? Since they don’t seem terribly interested in the rest of the world for what it is, but simply as a platform where they can demonstrate their ideology in action, they are uniquely ill-suited to conveying democracy as anything other than a universalist project that aims to obliterate local customs and institutions. This has very often been the flaw of advocates of democracy, who often express some degree of contempt for the customs and traditions of peoples who do not have democratic regimes. They vaguely sense that the local culture has inhibited the establishment of democracy, but instead of finding some way to adapt their model to local circumstances they will often seek to uproot whatever they regard as an impediment, ensuring that democracy is thereafter associated in the minds of the locals with cultural and political radicalism that deeply offends them.
The old joke that the puritan is the person who is worried that somewhere someone is having a good time is only partly right. It is not just the enjoyment of others that such people cannot stand. The real freethinking Yankee is the person who is worried that somewhere someone is thinking in a way that is not identical to his own thinking. Difference troubles the freethinking mentality, and the untidiness of non-systematic views of the world drives the freethinker crazy.
You can see the same “no coexistence” rhetoric in WWII propaganda films that claimed that the world cannot be partly enslaved and partly free, which is even sillier, since it was entirely possible for decades and decades for a few free republics and constitutional monarchies to exist and coexist with the rest of the world that was subjected to some form of autocratic rule. This would have continued to be true, regardless of the outcome of WWII, but as with all good propaganda the message had to be one that related distant, abstract dangers in immediately threatening ways. If Germany attacks Russia, how does that concern you? In reality, it often doesn’t concern you. But if you are convinced of the danger of Germany eventually attacking you, then you become very attentive to the problem of Germany.
Most people are unconcerned if there is or is not freedom on the other side of the planet–what concerns them is when that lack of freedom supposedly endangers their security. If someone could plausibly argue that inaction with respect to Darfur would lead in a fairly direct way to a bomb going off in their local mall, people would become a bit more anxious about helping Darfuris. This is actually a fairly normal response; people who lie awake at night worrying about Darfuri villagers are highly atypical and frankly rather odd people.
In a related way, this is why–indeed it must be why–interventionists continue to spout the obvious lie that “they hate us for our freedom” and the associated falsehood that “democracies don’t war.” Wasting time, money and lives on democratisation only makes sense if it is seen to serve a larger purpose of security. Constantly babbling about spreading freedom only seems reasonable to national security-focused citizens if they are made to believe that we have enemies because of who we are and that we can only eliminate those enemies by making their own societies more like how we are. The government needs to make the conflict ideological and promise that it has an ideological solution, which theoretically reaffirms domestic confidence in our own ideals and also links what is an entirely security-related matter to ideological definitions. Security threats have not come about because of certain policies or lapses in defense, but because of people opposed to our very existence and way of life. In other words, as the propagandists tell it, the only reason why these other societies produce hostile forces is that those societies are insufficiently identical with us in their political norms and institutions. If we make them more identical with us, there will have to be peace! It is so logical that the stupidity of it doesn’t seem to occur to all that many people who support the government’s decisions. The problem arises when policymakers believe their own propaganda and think that they actually can solve the problem of jihadi hostility by promoting democracy and freedom, when the lack of these was never the cause. They mixed up the domestic propaganda message with the actual policy analysis (assuming that there was any analysis with which to confuse it), and hijinks ensued.
The end of the Cold War with all its attendant resurgences of nationalism, ethnicity, religion and political diversity–things that had been largely artificially suppressed or managed by the two rival systems–should have put an end to this kind of homogenising, rationalising thinking once and for all, but instead the democratists took the collapse of communism as an invitation to make the world in the democratists’ image. Incidentally, there are two principally ideological reasons why democratists are so furious with Putin and Chavez: they have shown that real mass democracy can and will yield authoritarian, illiberal governments in societies that do not have a politically liberal culture appropriate to constitutional government and, furthermore, that the cookie-cutter model the democratists would impose all around the world is wildly unpopular in large parts of the world. Left populism in Latin America is a very public repudiation of everything democratists have claimed about democracy: that it is inherently peaceful, prone to encouraging freedom and likely to produce more pro-American regimes. To maintain the obvious contradiction between their ideology and reality, they must massage the reality and describe Russia and Venezuela as “failed” democracies, because it can never be admitted that fully functioning democracies can create what is being created in Russia and Venezuela. (Occasionally, some democratists will see the flaw in this sort of argument and acknowledge that when they say democracy they don’t just mean ‘majority rule’ and political equality of citizens–which is what democracy actually means–but include under that label the whole array of liberal constitutional arrangements that have, of course, absolutely nothing to do with democracy.) This is fine, except that their democracies are doing what the ancients knew democracies were best at doing: attacking the rich, creating chaos and leading directly to despotism.
The impulse to homogenise and unify on the home front and eliminate rival systems elsewhere is the impulse of every kind of ideologue, which is why conservatives and men of the Right who love variety, the local, the particular and the differences of place, custom and culture are dead-set against every kind of ideology and pursue a persuasion, a mentality and a way of life that will not be governed by the dreadful categories of ideological thinking.
I believe the political currents in America are more unpredictable today than at any time in modern history. We are experiencing a political re-orientation, a redefining and moving toward a new political center of gravity. This movement is bigger than both parties. The need to solve problems and meet challenges is overtaking the ideological debates of the last three decades—as it should. ~Chuck Hagel
There are three things that bother me about Chuck Hagel’s statement. First, he treats the debates of the “last three decades” as “ideological,” which would suggest to me that he thinks they have no bearing on the real world and properly should have nothing to do with government. This seems to me to be rather similar to the treatment some journalists and most secular people give to the intersection of religion and politics: religion is this thing that is unconnected to “real life” that intrudes and creates a number of difficulties for those trying to ”solve problems” or “resolve conflicts” or whatever it is that these people believe political work should achieve. For them, religion is an ideology and religion is one of the main problems to be managed in any given society.
We already know that Chuck Hagel has a low opinion of religion’s role in history, so it bears asking whether he thinks religious conservatives have had a net negative impact on American politics over the last three decades (why only three? why not six or four?)? What “ideological debates” is he referring to, and what pragmatic policymaking does he think should have replaced them?
The second thing about the statement that bothers me is that it implies that no one in the last thirty years either tried or succeeded in solving any of the problems identified by voters as matters of concern, as if we have been living in a world of fantasy for 30 years from which Hagel (and Unity08?) will save us. It as if anti-tax activists were not trying to solve the problem of excessive government and anemic economic activity. Were/are some anti-tax people actually ideological about their commitment to lower taxes? Yes. Does that mean that a fight over the level of taxation is simply an “ideological debate”? Obviously not. The same might be said about any number of other policy debates over the last thirty years.
The third thing that bothers me is this use of the word “ideological.” For pragmatists, as Hagel likes to portray himself as being, any strongly held belief, no matter its nature or form, is ideological, while ideology is really properly defined by its abstract quality and its tendency to reduce complex realities to extremely simple yes/no questions. This is the flashcard approach to political thought, and it has unfortunately been greatly encouraged by the rise of televised media and the constraints television will always put on any exchange. (In theory, given their greater space, online publications and blogs should produce a higher level of discourse than the old ha yah na approach, but it is still quite rare to find.)
Ideology is the stuff of party programs and bullet-point lists (Russell Kirk’s lack of a “programmatic” list of ”actionable” items, which so annoyed Frank Meyer, was typical of the man who spoke of conservatism as anti-ideology); it is the lifeblood of the revolutionary and the activist. Not everyone who argues from definition and invokes high principle is engaged in ideological debate, but to listen to Hagel you would think that the last thirty years has seen nothing but this sort of “ideological debate.” It has certainly seen its fair share of ideology, but another crucial quality of ideology is the ideologues’ complete lack of interest in debate. Conformity and submission are the goals of ideology, not persuasion, truth or understanding. A debate implies at least some minimal engagement with the opposition and an exchange of views. Ideologues can really only manage to recite slogans (sometimes these are slogans dressed up in very elaborate phrases) and issue denunciations.
Given that the liberal elites have ignored the 70% black out-of-wedlock birth rate for decades in discussing the causes of black poverty, I am confident that open borders conservatives will prove just as capable of ignoring the 48% Hispanic out-of-wedlock birth rate as they perpetuate the myth of redemptive Hispanic family values. ~Heather Mac Donald
For all of the very critical things I have had to say about her remarks about conservatism, religion and the religious, Ms. Mac Donald really shines when she speaks about empirical evidence. She knows what she’s talking about here, and I don’t say this simply because I fully agree with her rejection of the pro-immigration “family values” rhetoric.
Mr. Bush used to have an old stand-by line that has, thankfully, been retired from service for the time being. “Family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande.” This was supposed to be a clever way to cajole social conservatives into embracing amnesty. It didn’t work. It did manage to convince many of us that “compassionate conservatism” was a bad joke. But Mr. Bush was right in a sense–these values don’t stop at the Rio Grande. To look at Ms. Mac Donald’s numbers, if 48% of Hispanics are outside of wedlock “family values” don’t even reach the Rio Grande in some parts of the country. If they had their way, the open borders crowd would help make sure that this family values-free zone increased in size at a steady rate.
The reason for the open borders crowd’s indifference to such empirical evidence is pretty clearly ideological. It doesn’t matter that there actually are so many out-of-wedlock births among Hispanics–the ideologue knows that all Hispanics are Catholics (which is increasingly untrue) and that such Catholics must have families probably just like 19th and early 20th century eastern European families (definitely untrue) and that, somehow, social and political revolution has not affected Catholics from Latin America (absolutely untrue). In this fantasy, to which even some conservative Catholics in this country may be very susceptible (Sam Brownback, this means you), the moral and social changes that have obviously swept over the Catholic world everywhere else to significant effect must have never reached Mexico and points south. While accusing other conservatives of nostalgia for olden times, the open borders crowd still seems to imagine Latin America as it was maybe fifty years ago or more, or perhaps simply as some ideal type of traditional society that can be used as a way to refuel the drained moral batteries of modern America.
Ideology is usually the cause for most examples of people ignoring evidence. In this case, the ideology involves holding at least these three ideas: America is a nation of immigrants, therefore it is inevitably good for American society to have more immigrants, it is even better to have hardy, Catholic immigrants who possess good “values” and because they are hardy, Catholic immigrants it would be hypocritical for Christians to want to keep them from coming here and it would also be anti-Catholic bigotry. It is a potent little cocktail of cant, ignorance and political blackmail all rolled into one. It will take a lot of work presenting the evidence to the public to break the spell this ideology has on policymakers.
I’m all in favour of ‘democracy promotion’ (means to be determined on a case-by-case basis). Indeed, I consider it to be an essential goal for the West in the 21st century, both for reasons of self-interest (democratic governments do not go to war with each other), and basic human morality (democratic governments respect universal human rights).
I can’t understand thinking that a democratic government’s role does not involve securing and promoting democracy. ~Akrasia
Akrasia’s first claim, the claim of democratic self-interest in promoting democracy, is based on a fable and a dream. Not only do democracies go to war against each other with sufficient regularity to reject any talk of “exceptions that prove the rule,” they tend to wage particularly nasty, long, drawn-out wars against each other. Second, must we continue to belabour simple points about whether democracies respect human rights? Some democratic states (Russia leaps to mind) do no such thing, and there is nothing inherent in democracy that requires such governments do respect those rights. If by “democracy,” Akrasia means constitutional government under a rule of law, he should say so and stop importing the virtues of one kind of regime into democracy and pretending that democracy has something to do with respecting human dignity and the claims of morality. Any government’s duties, regardless of its political constitution, are defined by providing basic order, enforcing the laws, protecting citizens against external threats and securing the interests and welfare of the people and the commonwealth. At no point is it part of any government’s function to export an ideology or lend its support to the spreading of a certain type of government elsewhere in the world. Besides going beyond its proper functions, any government that did this would very likely have to acquire such power that it would become a threat to the constitution of the home country.
Turning to Fr. Jape’s comments, I wish to show that, contrary to protestations, what Fr. Jape advocates is a distorting ideology like any other. That ideology so far lacks a useful name (probably the best would be “socialism,” a term monopolized long ago by opponents of private property), so I will call it “Ignatiusreillyism” or “Reillyism” for short. ~Austin Bramwell
In the first place, Bramwell continues to use the term “ideology” in an overly broad manner disconnected from history and prior analysis. For Bramwell, whose heavy breathing on behalf of science and cognitive biology is telling, ideology is little more than the undeniable fact of the contingent nature of knowledge. Human beings cannot escape contingency, in thought any more than in birth. This has long been a principal conservative insight into man’s condition. Bramwell expresses the conservative notion of contingency in an appropriate, though cynical fashion: we are all “imprisoned in cages” we “cannot see.” Bramwell admits to being so imprisoned himself and reserves escape only for certain “geniuses” like Oakeshott who at least have the decency to carry the logic of contingency to its conclusion and completely shut up. ~Fr. Jape
Before I begin with my comments on the latest Jape installment and some additional comments on Mr. Bramwell’s response, I would like to make a few uncharacteristically irenic comments. Mr. Bramwell’s original TAC article made devastating critiques of National Review and, by extension, the entire logic of the “war on terror” under which virtually all conservatives labour (i.e., that we are “at war” against a fairly undefined enemy, whose nature and form constantly shifts and changes), which the bold and heroic NROniks (and everyone else in the movement) have so far seen fit to ignore. He succeeded in demonstrating that the way that almost everyone on the right has thought about “the war” after 9/11, using NR as a representative of the movement, has not involved much thought at all:
In sum, NR declared that we were “at war” when we were not, for reasons that it did not specify, against enemies that it could not define, and to achieve goals that war does not advance. “Defining Victory” dresses up as policy but inchoate thirst for vengeance against someone, anyone who hates us. How nations sink, by darling schemes oppressed / when vengeance listens to the fool’s request! On Oct. 15, 2001, National Review had no position on post-9/11 foreign policy.
Nor did it find a position thereafter.
He then lays into the frequent recourse to metaphor (whether it is draining the swamp or draining a bathtub), which serves as a way of obscuring the vacuity of NR’s foreign policy positions. There is no substantive policy there–just a lot of airy talk. (Though he does not dwell on these particular problems, the constant use of WWII analogies and the obsession with defining the enemy in terms of fascism also point to a shocking dearth of serious thinking about foreign policy on much of the right today.) And what is true of NR is true of a great many other conservative journals and institutions. This is really quite excellent and needs frequent repeating. The concluding section that makes it clear how the movement imposes and reinforces uniformity and mindless obedience is also very good. But where the mish-mash of NR’s vacuous pronouncements on foreign policy merits a lengthy rebuke and the movement’s zombie-like capacity for uniformity on given policy prescriptions (contrary to the official story that the movement prizes and encourages lively intellectual diversity!) receives very extensive attention, Mr. Bramwell feels that he can be done with the rest with a sentence or a paragraph devoted to each faction. Those of us indicted in those brief asides are indeed a bit disgruntled, but we most certainly know why we are so dissatisfied.
Now it is unfortunate that the only people talking at much length about Mr. Bramwell’s article are Jape and myself. I think we have some important critiques to make, but there is far more to this article than the middle sections where we have focused most of our attention. It will suit Mr. Bramwell to assume that we object so strenuously to these sections only because it is our ox that is being gored in them (and certainly I first focused on them because I recognised my understanding of conservatism as the target of these sections), but where the beginning of the article shines with analytical brilliance and where the end of the article stands out with its damning indictment of conservative groupthink the middle points hang in the air, unattached to anything, as if Mr. Bramwell felt that he had to say something damning about everyone on the right if he was to say anything damning about anyone at all. They do not serve as a transition from the first section to the third, and they do not even attempt to engage the claims being ridiculed; these conservatives ridiculed in the middle section of the article are so risible, one might conclude, that they can be dismissed with a flick of the wrist and a weary shake of the head. In other words, NR may be vacuous and the movement as a whole may be a stifling herd of automata following the directions from their leaders, but these people are in some ways even worse and less worthy of comment. It may be telling that the only people who have even bothered to offer some cogent defense of their views against Mr. Bramwell’s claims have been the “Reillyists.” Mr. Bramwell so labels us in order to mock every traditional conservative and paleoconservative as really no better than a preposterous obsessive shouting abuse at the screen in a movie theater. The others may be witless or mindless, but we are, of course, just cranks who can be dismissed without much consideration.
Even if, like Jape, we could all embrace Reilly as our own kind of admirable Don Quixote, we would still have to recognise the label as another way to avoid treating our objections at all seriously. That he makes no effort to take them seriously is clear enough when he pretends that none of us has ever had anything to say about how to secure ”peace, justice and prosperity,” and we don’t understand anything about “order,” either, when it would be fair to say that these four things are among our foremost concerns and it is also probably fair to say that we have discussed them at considerable length.
Against our interest in strengthening or conserving the bonds of family, Mr. Bramwell has some remarkable things to say:
Second, the family is not the locus of harmony from which all further social bonds may flow. Rather, as nearly all great works of literature show, it is a primary source of strife, anger, jealousy, rage, and violence.
Of course, no one during this debate, or at any other time, has claimed that the family was ”the locus of harmony from which all other social bonds flow.” When setting up a strawman, it is better to at least draw a fairly convincing face on it to give it the rough appearance of a real man. The family is not always and, in fact, is not very often a “locus of harmony,” as the recent Thanksgiving holiday celebrations of many will remind us, but then only romantics and propagandists would ever claim such a thing had existed or could exist. The family is not important because it is an easy set of relationships that always embody the spirit of cooperation and perfect orderliness, but because it takes us in our disordered, fallen state and makes our predicament slightly more manageable by providing a natural bond that, when reinforced and supported by custom and religious sanction, compels fallen, autonomous, rebellious man to sacrifice and labour on behalf of others. Yes, this is driven by biological imperatives of what Zizioulas calls the biological hypostasis. In this way we are trained up to understand the importance of self-emptying love for the living of a more virtuous and sane life that contributes directly to our desire for social peace, social order and social justice. If an economic regime does not allow people to form this vital institution, it becomes inimical to all of these other basic goods; a conservative, then, would have very definite things to say against a regime that threatens general prosperity of society while also resisting any regime that makes family formation and family stability increasingly difficult.
The family is an institution vital to social stability, the healthy raising up of children, the provision of numerous social and (in many periods of history) economic goods for its members, and the basic unit of social and, broadly speaking, political life. When family life is made stable by the customary obligations of marriage and the social stigmas that did once usually prevail against the break-up of families, the family channels, restrains and controls men’s appetites and impulses to some considerable degree, and through exogamous ties to other families it creates the foundations for social peace (one of those things we do not understand, never talk about and basically ignore). Through networks of intermarriage, families serve as the joints holding up the structure of society. Following Aristotle, ever the ideological crank, we might say that the community pre-exists and is in some sense prior to the family, but we would also hold that family households, not individuals, are typically the constituent members of any community, and without these constituent members there would be no need to consider problems of peace, justice, prosperity or order. But never mind all that–I must return to pacing inside my invisible cage.
Mr. Bramwell continually accuses us of believing in idealised, harmonious this and idealised, harmonious that, as if we were unaware of man’s capacity for conflict or vice or destruction and as if we did not know about the outbursts of private violence and vendetta that have raged throughout history. This does a kind of violence to what we ”Reillyists” actually say about these things. We place such importance on the bonds of family, church and community and the requirements of custom and tradition because we recognise that these things can, if ordered rightly, check and curb many of the worst passions of men. They can create channels for directing pride, ambition, and man’s impulses for rivalry and revenge away from recourse to violence and towards the building up of a well-ordered polity. If taken to excess or arranged in ways that promote vendetta and social upheaval, obviously any of these things can become the enemy of the common good. Those who argue on behalf of these attachments and loyalties are not oblivious to the threats and problems inherent in the natural affinities and loyalties they champion. But they do know what the alternatives are, and they have seen those alternatives wreak social chaos on the life of this and other modern societies. If I and the other Reillyists ever begin to encourage people to engage in multi-generation blood feuds with their neighbours for insulting someone’s horse, Mr. Bramwell’s current criticism will be spot on. Until then, I await slightly more serious criticism.
In closing, I should state what I believe is *not* an ideology, since I must appear inordinately fond of calling everyone an ideologue. The world is generally too complex to understand without resort to simplifying assumptions; hence, for the most part, everyone who has informed political opinions is an ideologue, myself included [bold mine-DL]. The only persons are who are not ideologues are, first, radical quietists like Oakeshott who hew rigorously to the belief that political wisdom can’t be expressed in propositional form. They’re probably right. Second, those geniuses are not ideologues who are capable of seeing so far that they can recognize their own assumptions as such. These are the paragons of what Weber called the “ethics of responsibility.” All others, even the Reillyists, remain imprisoned in cages that they cannot see. ~Austin Bramwell
I stand corrected. In his TAC article, Mr. Bramwell did not call for a pox on all houses. It was only aimed at most houses, and only then to awaken us from our “dogmatic slumbers.” Which dogmatic slumbers? Why, those of ideology, of course, in which apparently “everyone who has informed political opinions” slumbers.
Naturally, if at this point I were to say, “Surely Kirk thought that Burke held informed political opinions and yet was powerfully opposed to the spirit of ideology and was not an ideologue, which suggests that this definition of ideology is probably incorrect or less than useful,” I would simply be reifying my invisible cage of dogmatic commitments as confirmed by what I apparently consider to be Kirkian Revelation (not just revelation, but Revelation!). To cite a reasonable authority on a matter becomes equivalent to waving Scripture in someone’s face and invoking God’s will. I suspect that this will fail to convince very many, not least because it doesn’t seem to me to make very much sense. That isn’t a problem, because almost anything I or anyone else will be able to say about it can be reduced, in the end, to the invisible cage of assumptions and commitments about which we are all supposedly unaware.
Let us consider what this definition of ideology means. It means that when Mr. Bramwell said of Kirk that he had “almost no political opinions whatsoever,” this was actually a compliment for Kirk (it means that he was relatively non-ideological, which we all agree is generally a Good Thing). So it was a compliment for him, in spite of the fact that it was a statement made in service of dismissing anyone who would desire “to return to its [the movement’s] alleged first principles,” such as those outlined by this same largely apolitical Russell Kirk, because the conservative movement supposedly never had any of these principles anyway. Even though the “policy implications” of the ideas of Kirk, Weaver, et al. were obscure, and their ideas therefore apparently largely irrelevant to whatever it is that we ought to be doing (which at the end Mr. Bramwell suggests should be a search for wisdom, but one is left wondering what policy implications have to do with wisdom), to the extent that they were quietist and/or geniuses they were free from the taint of ideology. So they are eccentric and their ideas of little use, but at least they aren’t ideological. Except when they say silly things like, “ideas have consequences,” because we are supposed to think that people who say that believe that only ideas have consequences.
All of which forces the question: what on earth is conservatism (which, to be “dogmatic” again, is the negation of ideology) if almost all conservatives of every stripe, who have undoubtedly had informed political opinions to one degree or another, are effectively ideologues? The conservative protests in vain who says that he is not ideological, because the very attempt to respond will be considered simply a way of shoring up his ideological position.
Then there is the question of the pre-political loyalties, which Mr. Bramwell says that he questioned. Well, no, he didn’t question them. He ridiculed them as “dangerously subversive” and in a reductio ad Mediorientem painted the bleak picture of what a society defined by “ancestral loyalties” must look like. Missing then was his more qualified claim that all he meant was that pre-political and political loyalties must be balanced and neither should be allowed to go too far. That makes a lot more sense than calling them dangerously subversive and alluding to the calamities of Iraqi and other Middle Eastern nations’ tribal and religious politics:
At most other times, however, ancestral attachments are dangerously subversive. The U.S. could not have survived had it not ruthlessly extirpated the ancestral loyalties of both natives and newcomers; Great Britain suffered endless civil wars before the great constitutional oak that Burke praised took root; the West itself succeeded precisely because it cut short the reach of the extended family or clan. Ancestral loyalties are the curse of uncivilized peoples, most especially in the hypermnesiac Middle East.
In his response to Jape, he now claims:
Conceding that I was being provocative, in discussing “ancestral loyalties,” I made nothing more than the self-evident-to-the-point-of-banal observation that not all “pre-political” loyalties are good things. On the contrary, just like political loyalties, they are sometimes good and sometimes bad.
But calling something “the curse of uncivilized peoples” and conjuring dark images of sectarian massacre that his readers would have imagined upon reading about “ancestral loyalties” in relation to the Middle East is not to say that these loyalties are “sometimes good and sometimes bad.” What he clearly said was that, except perhaps for a brief moment in the 1950s, talking up such loyalties has generally been a very bad idea and inimical to…well, to something. What is that something? Ah, order. Because, he tells us, those who place value on these “ancestral loyalties” have a poor grasp of how to obtain order and must endorse these attachments in such a way that they are inimical to what I might call good order. Mr. Bramwell also adds:
But it is not clear that Burke did categorically oppose the cutting short of “pre-political” loyalties. On the contrary, it strikes me as quite imprudent and un-Burkean to set “pre-political” against “political” loyalties in the first place, rather than to say, sensibly, that both, within limits, have their place.
But setting the pre-political against the political in the first place is exactly what Mr. Bramwell did in his original article. Scroll back up and see the statement Mr. Bramwell made on this very point. For instance, he said, “The U.S. could not have survived had it not ruthlessly extirpated the ancestral loyalties of both natives and newcomers,” which sounds very different from saying that those loyalties have their proper place. Something does not have a place when it has been extirpated. Even granting some license for making an exaggerated statement to get our attention, one seriously wonders whether Burke would have viewed such extirpation of loyalties as anything other than Jacobin insanity. This statement about the U.S. sounds like, I’m sorry to say, something some rationalising liberal nationalist of the late 18th or 19th centuries would say. The War of Secession saw some ruthless extirpation of people’s old loyalties to their separate states, all right, and a great many people have been the worse for it. Every centralist and liberal revolutionary of the 19th century found these attachments to be impediments to their vision of order, sure enough, and they saw them as impediments to the rational, constitutional state they were trying to create. They were right–these attachments are impediments to a liberal vision of society and they are impediments to the state. Those are two reasons, though certainly not the most important, why these attachments are very good. (Can they be taken to excess and turned into unjust and inhuman idols? Of course, but the reality that they are not the “curse of uncivilized peoples” and instead the foundations on which civilised life is built should be equally clear.)
That is why it seems fairly clear (I wouldn’t say self-evident) why anyone interested in checking and restraining the state, for example, and actually enjoying the good order of a healthy society that is not cramped and straitened by the burdens of unjust and intrusive government (including the central state’s tendency to make war and steal the wealth of the people), would want to defend these loyalties with far more energy than they would want to defend the claims of the central state or any order that such a state might impose. Peace, justice and prosperity seem reasonably good standards by which to judge the conservative-ness of a particular vision of order, and yet there is little in Mr. Bramwell’s response that suggests that his original objection to “ancestral loyalties” or even his more qualified balancing act between the different sets of loyalties measures up very well by comparison.
Then there is Mr. Bramwell’s frankly embarrassing targeting of the so-called Reillyists on their arguments in favour of the social bonds of family, religion and community:
They allude frequently a certain vision of the Middle Ages-the same one that we get from Henry Adams-where each man knows his place in the order of things and unquestioningly does his duty. It seems to me, however, that Reillyists understand neither family, community nor the Middle Ages.
Of course, no one who knows anything about the Middle Ages subscribes to the view that the imaginary feudal hierarchical pyramid mentioned here ever existed, and I honestly don’t know any of these so-called Reillyists who think that medieval Europe was a place with a perfectly harmonious-but-stratified social structure. One would have to be entirely ignorant of the history of medieval Germany, Italy and France, among other places, to think that this model held up in actual practice or that it was even the conscious ideal of most people living at the time. This vision was the construction of medieval legal theorists on the one hand, who were trying to make some sense of the bewildering array and diversity of relationships of service and fealty (the bonds and relationships existed, but they did not fit into a neat, uniform pattern), and was also encouraged by the revolutionaries of the late 18th and early 19th centuries who condemned “feudal” society for all the same reasons that Romantics in the 19th century came to praise such a society.
Then there is the questionable claim, related to the claim that the Middle Ages were a “revolutionary age,” that “Nobody tried harder to “immanentize the eschaton” than Hildebrand.” Mr. Bramwell refers here, I assume, to Pope Gregory VII, and as much as I share Richard Weaver’s dislike for Pope Gregory I simply cannot agree with such an erroneous statement. First of all, a great many medieval people–the Cathars, for instance–tried harder to immanentise the eschaton than Gregory VII, and second of all Gregory VII didn’t try to do any such thing. Whatever I may think of the negative consequences the so-called Papal Revolution had on western Europe and the possibility of reconciliation between Catholics and Orthodox, I would never say something so exaggerated and overreaching about Pope Gregory VII. In his defense, Pope Gregory was insisting on the canonical rights of the See of Rome with respect to the investiture of bishops, which had by long usage and customary practice been taken over by local secular rulers for reasons of convenience and political expediency. The Papal Revolution was in many respects a Papal Reaction, an attempt to ”restore” a state of affairs that had, of course, never exactly existed before the 11th century but which represented an attempt to force the secular rulers of western Europe to adhere to the canons of the Catholic Church and to establish firmly the Papacy’s episcopal authority over other bishops. This was an act of church reform that brought the practice of the Catholic Church into line with the canons. It was quite far away from the spirit of gnosticism seeking to realise the Kingdom here below. There were chiliasts in the Middle Ages, and there were several medieval mystics who taught, or who were believed to have taught, the imminent return of the Lord, whose way they believed they were preparing through spiritual or political action, but Gregory VII was as far removed from these people as anyone possibly could have been.
All that having been said, preferring a society of deference, orders and hierarchy to one of rude egalitarianism and the emancipated individual need not appeal to medieval examples for its support (not that anyone today would be inclined to follow medieval examples if they were offered), but simply appeal to experience and the common sense respect for the fact that man is a social being that flourishes better when he belongs to a tightly-woven web of social bonds arising from his family, religion and neighbours. More critical Byzantinists have regarded Byzantine society as distinct from its western medieval counterparts in the relative weakness of intermediary institutions (except for the Church) and the exposure of the individual and the nuclear family to the largely unmediated power of the autocrat. As much as I admire and appreciate Byzantium, there is a lot of truth to this analysis, and I think it is fair to say that that is the kind of order towards which Mr. Bramwell’s vision inevitably tends. It has certain advantages, but it carries with it tremendous costs that I, for one, do not believe to be worth paying.
Certainly in the present moment I can think of nothing more dangerously subversive of good order than emphasising the dangers from “ancestral” or “pre-political loyalties” while having nothing to say about the continuing expansion of the central state that continues to impose its dysnomia upon this country and the world.
“We’ll succeed, unless we quit,” the president said. “History has a long march to it, and societies change and relationships can constantly be altered to the good.” ~The Times
Perhaps Mr. Bush was inspired by the formal trappings of one of the last technically Communist states on earth. Perhaps it was the proximity to China that went to his head. History has “a long march to it”? A long march where? To the “shining age of liberty” that Mr. Bush has mentioned in the past? Now what sort of people usually talk unironically about “long marches”? Let’s see…we have Mao’s Long March, and Gramsci and cultural Marxism’s ”long march through the institutions.” Mr. Bush is beginning to make a bad habit of sounding not just like a Red Republican, but simply like a Red.
“We tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take a while,” he said, when asked if Vietnam offered lessons for Iraq. “It’s just going to take a long period of time for the ideology that is hopeful - and that is an ideology of freedom - to overcome an ideology of hate.” ~The Times
Via Doug Bandow
When I hear anyone talk about “the ideology that is hopeful,” I am deeply concerned for his mental health. When I hear the President say it, I become profoundly worried about the fate of the world. I calm down a bit when I realise that the man has no idea what he’s talking about, which might make this sort of disturbing ideology-talk less dangerous, but then become a bit more agitated when I realise that he has no idea what he’s talking about. In spite of this, he is still spouting off dangerous phrases that corrupt public discourse and muddle still further our already-muddled understanding of the nature of our conflict with certain jihadis. Chances are that anyone who talks about a “hopeful” ideology is the enemy of real hope. We already know that people who espouse an “ideology of freedom” are the enemies of actual human freedom. The man who pursues the abstraction Freedom will trample a great many freedoms in the process. This is common sense.
We have precedents that show us how dangerous it is when people begin speaking about abstract freedom. Obviously, the Jacobins were notable for being proponents of Liberte and also being among the worst despots in French history. The people who sang Nur der Freiheit gehoert unser Leben were among the worst offenders against the actual freedom of people in a dozen countries and then some; Lenin’s talk of “full freedom for the people” ultimately resulted in tyranny and butchery of “the people” on a grand scale unequaled in human history. I am not saying that Mr. Bush is on par with these other ideologues in terms of what he has done, which would be a preposterous thing to claim, but the language and the twisted ideas are only too similar.
Unfortunately, there is a bad, old tradition in this country of chirping merrily about defending freedom while trampling on the Constitution and the liberties of Americans and waging pitiless war against either our own or other peoples that runs from Lincoln to Wilson to FDR to LBJ to GWB (maybe we can just start calling him Gwub from now on–what do you think?). But until Mr. Bush no President to my knowledge has so blithely, ignorantly and irresponsibly talked up the virtues of the “ideology of freedom” with all of the creepy connotations of an official political doctrine to which all good citizens shall subcribe and all foreigners shall submit. The complete lack of any time horizon for the victory of this “ideology of freedom” is the perfect justification for perpetual revolution and perpetual war: we cannot stop until the “ideology of freedom” triumphs, and it is going to take a very long time for it to triumph, and to stop halfway is to betray “the ideology of freedom” and thus to become a collaborator with the “ideology of hate.” If Mr. Bush had any clue what he was saying, he would realise that he is declaring opponents of his policies to be political thought criminals of a sort. I await the avalanche of denunciations of Mr. Bush from conservatives who will protest the disturbing pattern in the President’s rhetoric. For the most part, I suspect I will be waiting a rather long time–perhaps by then “the ideology of freedom” will have won!