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Posts Tagged ‘Tocqueville’

One of Bush’s more asinine theories of foreign policy, a theory at the heart of much of neoconservatism, is the idea that everyone everywhere wants American-style freedoms and American-style democracy.  As he said in his 2007 speech on the surge:

The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time. On one side are those who believe in freedom and moderation. On the other side are extremists who kill the innocent, and have declared their intention to destroy our way of life. In the long run, the most realistic way to protect the American people is to provide a hopeful alternative to the hateful ideology of the enemy, by advancing liberty across a troubled region. It is in the interests of the United States to stand with the brave men and women who are risking their lives to claim their freedom, and to help them as they work to raise up just and hopeful societies across the Middle East.

But is this really what a great many Iraqis want?  They surely want order, commerce, fair treatment, and the good of their individual tribes.  But freedom? And if they celebrated the fall of Saddam, hasn’t it been clear that for some this was a signal that they now could oppress their erstwhile oppressors?

The sorry history of liberal movements in 19th Century Europe and South America should give some pause to those who believe that people everywhere desire freedom.  That desire has often been fleeting or coexstensive with darker desires of envy, revenge, and license.  We’ve seen this in our own times, particularly in Eastern Europe, where misguided notions of freedom left a great many Russians, Poles, and others with unfortunate disrespect for free markets, borne by the rapidity of the social change and the inclusion of accidental aspects of free societies that could have been disregarded in deference to national cultures and other goods.

I recently read Tocqueville’s excellent work The Ancien Regime and the French Revolution and was struck by the relevance of the following passage:

I see quite clearly that, whenever nations are poorly governed, they are very ready to entertain the desire for governing thesmelves.  But this kind of love for independence, which has its roots only in certain particular and passing evils brought on by despostism, never lasts long; it disppearas along with the accidental circumstnaces which caused it.  They seemed to love freedom; it turns out they simply hated the master.  When nations are ready for freedom, what they hate is the evil of dependency itself.

At home and abroad, a desire for security by the lower classes above all is the main competitor of freedom.  Instead of looking to export this difficult to maintain good overseas by military force, America would be better served to cultivate its own national independence at home.  But instead of the Republican evils of imperial adventures abroad and the false freedom of unproductive financial gimmicks at home, Obama promises humanitarian interventions overseas and crippling debts at home in the name of economic stimulus.  Having replaced the old stawart American people with a newer breed through mass immigration, and having accelerated that old breed’s decadence at home with the welfare state begun in the 1930s, the various effects of liberalism have rendered the old American type that “hate[d] the evil of dependency itself” in short supply to say the least.

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Notice how much more coherent, articulate, and balanced his rhetoric is compared to our current crop of “conservatives.” In particular, notice that he recognizes our country’s earlier failings without rejecting these failings as something that wipe away all moral legitimacy to our past, as Bush and Rice have done repeatedly, comparing the savage atrocities of Iraq’s savage insurgents with the brave soldiers on both sides of America’s War for Independence and Civil War. Finally, he is far more steeped in the traditions of Western Civilization, quoting Tocqueville, C.S. Lewis, Whittaker Chambers,  Isaiah, Tom Paine, and Jesus Himself.

How far the quality of our political life has declined in my own lifetime.  Transcript here.

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