Archive for the ‘Neoconservatives’ Category

Leading neoconservative Elliot Abrams, reveals his essential liberalism and indifference to America as an historical entity by calling for massive Haitian immigration as a response to the Haitian earthquake.   As we all know, there’s plenty of jobs to go around in America these days, and the Haitians that on Monday are swarming US Navy helicopters and practicing voodoo, would make fine citizens the minute they cross our frontiers.

This goes beyond mere liberal stupidity.  Abrams is a self-serving hypocrite. He openly and without apology promotes one set for rules for his ethno-religious group–Jews–for whom he publicly frets about “alarming demographic data” in the form of intermarriage, while promoting quite another set of rules for the historically European country he calls home.  For neoconservatives, America’s demographics deserve no respect and are only noticed as a remind for their own group’s status as a minority, a problem reminiscent of their once very vulnerable status in Europe, that must be rectified today through purposeful relegation of native-born European-Americans to minority status.  This is not good policy, and it will likely backfire some day on those whom it aims to protect and render invisible.

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Today in the New York Times:

When I was a freshman in college, I was assigned “Reflections on the Revolution in France” by Edmund Burke. I loathed the book.

I, by contrast, read Burke my freshman year, fell in love, and wrote my bachelor’s thesis on his philosophy.  One peculiar thing about the neoconservatives is that they’re the court jesters of liberalism and are mostly ex-liberals seeking to make conservatism respectable in the eyes of liberalism by removing most of the issues that appeal to natural conservatives, i.e., those who when they first read Burke found much to agree with, as well as those who are less educated who find a great deal to be uneasy with in the dominant liberalism of our times.  Neoconservatives like Brooks may occasionally say something interesting, but they’re really just moderate liberals in the mold of Harry Truman and Jack Kennedy.  With their passion for American Empire and contempt for much of America’s history, they are in many ways less conservative even than the Democrats of old.

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Paul Gottfried notes that while the canon of post-war conservative thinkers are valuable in their own right, that simply reading them will not likely revive that more authentic strain of conservatism:

The movement that some of our readers would like to revive is now on a life-support system. And those who may eventually succeed in redirecting the conservative movement would not likely be students of a “canon.” They would be people of action often driven by outrage, but in all likelihood not those devoted to the aesthetics of Russell Kirk. It is also an unfortunate fact that most of our canon writers who were then around did little or nothing to prevent the straying of their movement. And most of those who in the 1980s ran to collaborate with the neoconservatives claimed to be loyal disciples of the “great thinkers” of postwar conservatism.

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Most of George Bush’s foreign policy mistakes have been caused by what may be termed excessive foreign policy idealism.  Though Bush is rightly criticized for his incompetence and failure to learn from events, no amount of competence would have saved him from the pathetic, ongoing insurgency in Iraq. This outcome was a natural consequence of the situation that he put himself in due to foreign policy idealism:  our ambitious plans to change Iraq’s people and culture, the lack of an Iraqi center of power or leader to which we could appeal, and the inherent friction of a proud, ancient people in the face of foreign occupation. 

Bush misjudged where we should intervene (Iraq, Ukraine’s elections, Kosovo Independence), how long we should stay (forever), and what kind of results we could expect (flowers) because of this idealism. In the world of Bush and the neoconservatives, we should concern ourselves not merely with security or commerce, but high ideals like democracy and human rights among both our allies and our enemies.  The lack of concern for such things has undergirded our historical alliance with folks like Saudi monarchs and Indonesian dictators.  The idealists respond that these regimes fuel terrorism amongst their resentful and downtrodden people.  So, we must democratize places like this by force, including Iraq, as a matter of englightened self-interest. 

McCain believes all of this in spades.  Pat Buchanan describes what we can expect in a President McCain:

Like Condi Rice, who regularly disparages the policies of every president from FDR to Bill Clinton, McCain enjoys parading the higher morality of his devotion to democracy-uber-alles.

“For decades in the Middle East we had a strategy of relying upon autocrats to provide order and stability. We relied on the Shah, the autocratic rulers of Egypt, the generals of Pakistan, the Saudi royal family. … We can no longer delude ourselves that relying on these outdated autocrats is the safest bet.”

Speaking of self-delusion, does McCain believe the “democrats” lately elected in Pakistan will be tougher on al-Qaida and the Taliban than Pervez Musharraf, who has twice escaped assassination for having sided with us?

Does McCain think this new crowd in Islamabad will be more pro-American than the general, when the people who voted them in are among the most anti-American in the Islamic world?

From Richard Nixon to George Bush I, we expelled Moscow from Egypt, won the Cold War, brought peace between Egypt and Israel, and created a worldwide alliance, including Hafez al-Assad of Syria, that drove Saddam’s army out of Kuwait.

What has the Bush-McCain democracy crusade produced, save electoral victories for the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and Hamas? And if we dump the sultan of Oman, President Mubarak, and the king of Saudi Arabia, who does McCain think will replace them?

The “idealists” are the most war-mongering bunch around.  Their idealism has no respect for the diversity of political arrangements in the world, nor the benefits of tolerating injustice compared to initiating the horrors of war. Idealists are behind such varied campaigns as Kosovo, Iraq, and Vietnam, as well as the current call to intervene in Sudan.  Without a sustained focus on America’s abiding interest in peace and the avoidance of trouble, the idealism of a Clinton or a Bush or a McCain will always get us into wars.   The “no war for oil” folks have it all wrong.  That at least would make some crude sense.  The neoconservative ideaslists are seeking not power or lucre, but the satisfaction of standing up for a noble cause.  For them, every threat is Hitler, every decision Munich, every threat of world historical importance.  This same idealism does not give a leader the analytical tools to realize our predicaments and extricate ourselves. 

Idealists always paint vivid images of the future, a world characterized by law and right. Our present difficulties are always treated casually, necessary and bearable suffering that will be vindicated by the verdict of history.  Such “this worldly” optimism is reminiscent of the Hegelian-Marxist view of history, where any given state of society is only a step on the way to the Communist paradise. 

But sometimes it’s not December 1944. Sometimes the stakes are not existential.  And in these cases, hard-headedness is needed to go with softer-heartedness, in McCain’s case the admirable concern for others and a high sense of duty and persistence.  There is a time to throw in the towel, and that time has arrived in Iraq.

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Justin Raimondo has an excellent article in the American Conservative, where he traces John McCain’s devolution from sensible realist (including his stance against the doomed Lebanon intervention and the First Gulf War) to his reinvention in the late Nineties as a full blown neoconservative hawk. His turning point was the Kosovo War, where America bombed Serbia in order to expand Muslim dominance into Serbia’s Kosovo province. Now, these same Albanians harass and ethnically cleanse the remaining Christian population, a situation America enabled in the name of fighting genocide.

If McCain somehow wins the presidency, we can expect more ill-advised wars based on the dubious premise that the United States must identify and then smash every “rogue state” in the world. Iraq had an arguable relationship to U.S. interests, but the real models will be Kosovo, Somalia, and Bosnia. Raimando notes:

The brace of arguments McCain made in his CSIS speech in support of the Kosovo War didn’t hold together at the time—and fares even worse in retrospect. According to McCain, the Serbs threatened “our global credibility and the long-term viability of the Atlantic Alliance”—the former because two successive presidents had warned Milosevic against committing “aggression” against Kosovo, and failure to act would embolden other “rogue states” to defy American edicts. Yet McCain’s reasoning is circular: according to him, our government’s edicts must be obeyed because they are, by definition, non-negotiable—even by Americans. A certain course, once taken, must be pursued to the bitter end, even if it acts against our long-term interests. McCain’s worldview, which admits no possibility of error, is undiluted hubris.

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Lawrence Auster’s site had an interesting discussion of the influence of Alan Bloom on the conservative movement; in particular, how his fight against relativism in the Closing of the American Mind led to an unhealthy universalism in most conservative political thinking, the kind of universalism that makes people think Iraqis are fit for democracy and that to say otherwise is a form of cultural relativism and even a type of racism.  Commenter Sebasian writes:

Bloom’s book may have been a welcomed contribution to the academic wars of the eighties and nineties, but the book’s final message was to divorce political thinking from any historical roots. The critique of historicism is so radical that his students were led to an unhealthy preoccupation with universal principles and a rejection of historically-dependent political phenomena. I think this is one origin of the neoconservatives’s obsession with creeds and propositions. Bloom throughout ignores the pre-political associations and instincts that are a precondition to the emergence of a unified nation-state, what we call culture in the broadest sense. Straussians are generally hostile to “culture,” for they see it a German construct used to discredit liberal democracy. The book’s introduction links the particularism of Southern culture with the cultural relativism of the Left. Whatever the merits of Bloom’s genealogical study, its net effect is to make universalism the only viable position, and once the state’s mission is universal rights, the state effectively destroys the culture from which it arose in the very act of declaring itself universal. Bloom was all about the “possibilities available to all men at all times,” the very opposite of Burkean conservatism.

I understand and appreciate why Bloom did what he did. Academic anthropology and sociology made a cult of “culture” and granted equal or higher dignity to tribal or drug or youth “cultures.” But the very universalist principles he exposes arose within a particular political and cultural context. Natural right is problematic in part because its ground is a particularism it must by definition deny. Only certain cultures have asserted such universality. Yet this cannot furnish a basis for universalism because it would deny universality upon asserting any cultural differences. Thus the culture’s importance is downgraded.

I noticed this phenomenon directly while at Chicago, the intellectual home of Leo Strauss, Bloom, and many contemporary neoconservatives.  For neoconservatives, democracy was a fetish; historical  America was a racist cesspool in need of redemption; Lincoln was a hero (not least for his use of extra-legal natural right thinking to advance his cause); the role of Christianity in the western intellectual tradition was downplayed to an extreme degree; and traditionalist conservatives were at best looked at with suspicion as historicists . . . crude Nietzschean power-grabbers at worst.

I’ve written a bit about Strauss and contemporary politics here, as well as the relationship of philosophy and history in this entry.  I was fortunate at the time to receive guidance from friends and the periodical Modern Age, which directed me to more rigorus wells of conservatism:  Burke, Roepke, Vogelin, Oakeshott, Kirk, Sir Henry Maine, von Kuehnelt Leddihn, and others far outside the brief, flawed, and somewhat nepotistic neoconservative tradition.

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One of the worst things about Bush is that he and his administration have radically advanced the misnomer that democracy is appropriate everywhere, a formula for world peace, and coextensive with the liberal human rights regime that we have grown accustomed to.  Further, along the lines of Immanuel Kant and Natan Sharansky, the neoconservatives argue that somehow democratic regimes will all essentially agree with one another on such diverse matters as trade policy, military policy, protection of the rights of property owners (including foreign capital), religious freedom, and other historically western values. 

If the election of Hamas in Palestine and the Shia theocrats in Iraq were not enough, perhaps treated as sui generis to the backwards political culture of the Middle East, then one hopes the more accessible case of Chavez will compel Bush and his neoconservative advisors to reconsider their passion for pushing elections and democratic reforms overseas.  Chavez is undoubtedly popular, even though he has aroused significant resentment and opposition.  But it appears he will soon consolidate his power through various referenda, moving Venezuela further in the direction of illiberalism. 

From a six hour workday to permitting the President to assume indefinite emergency powers, the new Venezuelan constitution will enshrine the well-trodden path of the caudillo, a path unlikely to lead to peace and prosperity.  Chavez’s proposals are filled with the perennially unsuccessful Latin American devices of soaking the rich, threatening foreign property, eviscerating civil society, and rewarding supporters at the expense of general prosperity.

In the examples of Peron and Bolivar to Juarez and Allende, Latin America for too long has embraced leadership by the strong, antidemocratic, and extra-legal “champion of the people,” who will fight against the machinations of the Catholic Church, foreigners, capital, haciendas, and the like.  It’s been a complete dead end and won’t lead anywhere better with Chavez than it has in the past.  It has typically spawned counter-violence by similarly anti-democratic right wing forces.  The democratic and pro-market peace of the last 15 years, denounced as the scourge of neo-liberalism, appears to be coming to an end in Bolivia, Venezuela, and Brazil. 

 The American government must recognize that there is a middle course in our world between unrestrained democracy and military dictatorships.  Namely, the example we find at home, the mixed system, where different constituencies have a say in government, and where any party in power is restrained by a Constitution that limits the ability of a run-amuck majority to permanently alter policy. But so long as democracy is always the rhetoric of the administration, it has rendered itself open to charges of hypocricy when it sensibly embraces Pervez Musharaff in Pakistan and condemns a Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. American leftists, who claim to care about the downtrodden people of Latin America, do these people a disservice by fawning over their charismatic but deeply flawed leaders, rather than recognizing that Latin Americans of all stripes must turn away from the politics of coups, caudillos, and class warfare. 

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