Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Conservatism, Democracy, and Foreign Policy – A Critique of Neoconservatives and of the Bush Doctrine

Daniel J. Mahoney back in the Fall of 2006 wrote a piece entitled “Conservatism, Democracy, and Foreign Policy”, in which he critiqued the Bush doctrine from a political philosophy standpoint.  I wish I had the foresight, mental acuity, and political maturity back then that I do now, for this piece is truly a stunning, accurate, sober, and complete philosophical look at the events between 9/11 and the Fall of 2006 (which was near the height of the chaos in occupied Iraq).  It is remarkably apolitical in a time that was anything but.  It is not for the faint-hearted as it is an intensely cerebral piece that required countless re-readings in order to simply understand the points.  But, if you can absorb heady, philosophical thought, it is well-worth the read.

Mahoney provides a history of political progressivism from the time of Marx until now, drawing surprising parallels between the Western Communist-sympathizers and today’s Neoconservatives (well, yesterday’s as they seem to be in Obama’s camp now thanks to Libya (eg. Bill Kristol, David Frum)).  The essence of their viewpoint is that they both worship the same, utopian end-state:  the “universal and homogenous state” in which humanity lives in perfect harmony:  the unattainable goal of heaven on earth.  It’s just that they had chosen different ways of getting there.
He goes on to differentiate between the different strains of neo-conservatism, identifying today’s breed as second Neoconservatives.  He recalls Francis Fukuyama who coined the term in his book:  America at the Crossroads:  Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy.  Fukuyama had, earlier at the fall of the Communist bloc, spun a progressive view of the fall, by stating that democratic government was merely inevitable and that Communism had indeed been on the wrong side of history.  Mahoney seems to accede to this point and makes a distinction between the Reaganites (dubbed by Fukuyama the first Neoconservatives) and today’s crop by stating the Reagan-era wonks were more anti-totalitarian than they were pro-democracy.  Though not the definitive Ron Paul-type, echoes of WWII isolationist Republicans, Reagan was a far cry from the democracy at any cost crowd of today.  Mahoney, does though, lay some of the blame upon the Reagan era for creating the environment that spawned the second-neoconservatives.  By invoking politically popular, and palatable progressive language, the Great Communicator simplified the struggle into Good vs. Evil, Freedom vs. Tyranny, and, most destructively, the inevitability of the triumph of democracy over totalitarianism.  It is this last point that Mahoney says created the second neo-conservatives.  It is perfectly logical to think that if ‘democracy’ is an inevitable result, then it should not be hard to intervene in locales, shackled by totalitarianism and push along the people towards their final destination.
When it comes to describing the political philosophy of Bush, some may say he punts as he does not put him in a particular camp.  I say Mahoney paints the accurate portrait of Bush’s philosophy as one governed solely by instinct informed by his Christian faith.  Bush is not a Neo conservative.  I will withhold my judgment on this point until the end.
Mahoney scores a big hit in cautioning to conservatives of the danger in falling for the big lie that this second neoconservatism sells.  The big lie is that democracy is an end in and of itself.  He recalls the HAMAS elections in Palestine, and the failures of fledgling democracies in post-Tsarist Russia, pre-Mussolini Italy, and the Weimar Republic.
Mahoney closes his essay with a look at Bush’s second inaugural address in which Bush seemed to have completely swallowed the neoconservative narrative by invoking the natural yearnings of mankind towards freedom.  Mahoney then shows the danger that this neoconservative philosophy presents when it is married to a European, postmodern design that erodes the traditions, institutions, and morals that have upheld our Republic for the past two-hundred plus years.  He shows that the Marxist and the Neocon are one and the same:  all after the unattainable, utopian ideal of heaven on earth … so long as they get to determine how it looks.

I think Mahoney is on the money with this essay.  His most poignant point is the intellectual fallacy that Neoconservatives employ:  that democracy in and of itself is an end worth investing U.S. blood and capital.  Democracy that is not underpinned by the rule of a law that respects, enshrines, and attributes to God as the source, human rights will always fail.  He also points out that history is indeed NOT on the Neocons’ (or Marxist) side.  Free, democratic societies are the exception, not the norm.  History is replete and will continue to be replete with totalitarian regimes until the end of time.  The U.S. is an aberration.  I cannot understand why political philosophers and historians cannot see nor understand the reason behind this.  The reason is not Democracy.  Madison pointed out that “our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.”  The reason is in that statement.  Only a moral and religious people that hold dear the tenants of Judeo-Christian beliefs can possibly expect to live and prosper in a free society.  Like in countries dominated by fundamentalist Muslims, democracies cannot flourish in places that use religious law to subjugate women and religious minorities.  Like in African tribal societies in which might makes right, democracies cannot flourish in places in which people are not able to govern themselves.
This is not to make a case that we, as Americans, so richly blessed by God, should not advocate, and at times intervene in other nations’ affairs.  It does mean, however, we must acknowledge why our society works and advocate others to do the same.  To pressure other societies to have democratic elections for the sake of democratic elections is to simply invite chaos and the inevitable rise of anti-American totalitarian regimes (see Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and now probably Egypt and Libya).
My personal take on the Bush doctrine is simple and political.  His failure to find the anticipated WMD stockpiles and associated programs required a new political narrative to justify our continued presence.  Unfortunately political reality forced him to call on the political allies in the Neoconservatives in his administration.  Complete irrational, and borderline suicidal hostility from the American left made failure in achieving reelection not an option.  Bush viewed a withdrawal without an achievement of a stable, allied society to be tremendously risky in a region in which might does make right, and therefore sacrificed the philosophical higher ground to appeal to the baser, emotional views of his electorate.  Call it Hope and Change for Iraq, 2004.  I do not believe Bush believes in the Neo-Con world-view.  I believe he holds deep Christian beliefs that the human soul does desire freedom.  This is true as the human being was designed to enjoy God and glorify Him forever, however the fall of man and original sin kind of complicated things.  Bush recognizes this but unfortunately, realpolitik dictated to him what he would say and do in 2004-2006.

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