Saturday, October 21, 2006

George W. Bush's Jacobin Foreign Policy

On his website a fellow named Dan Flynn, whom I would likely label a pseudo-conservative, raises a very interesting question: “IS THERE A CONSERVATIVE FOREIGN POLICY?” He wonders about a schism among those he calls "conservative" regarding foreign policy: "Might the seeds of the current conservative [sic] foreign policy schism be the natural consequence of uniting the crusading, liberation-oriented brand of anti-communist with the Washingtonian, non-interventionist libertarians and traditionalists?"

Unless one is willing to ignore the dictionary definition of "conservative" ("Characterized by a tendency to preserve or keep intact or unchanged; preservative.... The maintenance of existing institutions political and ecclesiastical.... Characterized by caution or moderation."), one must agree that George Washington's position was the only genuinely "conservative" foreign policy. Washington was indeed one of the “non-interventionist libertarians and traditionalists.”

Apparently Mr. Flynn does not take the next step and ask himself whether "the crusading, liberation-oriented brand of anti-communist" can accurately be labeled “conservative”. If he had he would have noted that a “crusading, liberation-oriented brand of anti-communist” and “conservative” involve a contradiction in terms. The former is the very antithesis of "conservative", it represents a radical or revolutionary foreign policy. It resembles the foreign policy of the leaders of the French Revolution. Claes G. Ryn has noted this in his article for The American Conservative, “A Jacobin in Chief: Exporting the French Revolution to the World.”

Ryn wrote: “It should by now be obvious that, in his foreign policy views at minimum, the president of the United States [George W. Bush] is no conservative. He is a Jacobin nationalist.” And students of the French Revolution will know this to be true.

Here is an irony that perhaps only George Orwell could fully appreciate. In his discussion of “dying metaphors” Orwell said: “there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves…. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact.” Although “conservative” is not a metaphor, the spirit of Orwell’s point applies. “Conservative” is a word that in contemporary American political usage has lost its “evocative power” and been “twisted out of [its] original meaning without those who use [it] even being aware of the fact.”

How far has “conservative” been “twisted out of [its] original meaning?” In a jaw-dropping debasement of the term, a foreign policy that reflects Jacobin values is now called "conservative"! Here is an irony for the Guinness Book of Records. Edmund Burke invented the articulate philosophy of modern conservatism on the very basis of his critique of the French Revolution (see his Reflections on the Revolution in France). And yet in twenty-first century America, many who call themselves “conservative” are advocating a foreign policy of spreading principles of liberty and freedom to foreign countries in a manner hardly distinguishable from radical French revolutionaries.

As Claes Ryn noted: “Inspired, guided, and supported by the ubiquitous neoconservatives, President Bush has adopted and fostered an ideologically charged missionary spirit that bears a striking resemblance to that of the Jacobins who led the French Revolution. The principles of “freedom and democracy” are to be promoted around the world by virtuous American power. The French Jacobins, too, saw themselves as virtuous champions of universal principles, “freedom” and popular rule prominent among them.” And just what, we must wonder, would Edmund Burke have had to say about this?

Claes Ryn's article is excellent. He further wrote: "What goes curiously unnoticed is that, despite their label, the neoconservatives think of themselves as representing a progressive, revolutionary force. The America they champion is not the America of history with its deep roots in a European and English past. In theory, they have constructed their own America, which represents a radical break with history.... Another leading neoconservative, Michael Ledeen, who first came into view as an advisor on national security in the Reagan White House, openly portrays the America with which he identifies as a destroyer of existing societies. According to Ledeen, 'Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our society and abroad. We tear down the old order every day. ... Our enemies have always hated this whirlwind of energy and creativity, which menaces their traditions. ... [We] must destroy them to advance our historic mission.'"

Ryn contiued: "Some of the most prominent neoconservatives caught the revolutionary spirit when they were still Marxists, and despite their 'second thoughts' they still harbor a deep desire for remaking the world according to a single model, their model. One of the reasons they are now fond of capitalism is that, like Marx, they conceive of it as an effective destroyer of traditional elites and societies. According to Irving Kristol, the reputed godfather of neoconservatism, today’s United States is 'ideological, like the Soviet Union of yesteryear.' His son William insists that for America vigorously to promote its universal principles abroad, it must have great military and other governmental might. The old conservative suspicion of strong, centralized federal government must be abandoned. According to the elder Kristol, it has been the role of neoconservatism 'to convert the Republican party, and conservatism in general, against their wills,' to this new conception of government."

"To call people who are attracted to the new Jacobinism 'neoconservatives' reveals profound confusion. Modern conservatism was born in opposition to Jacobin universalism. The father of conservatism, Edmund Burke, was an English liberal, a Whig, who was very friendly to the American colonists; he thought they had strong traditional grounds for challenging king and Parliament. What Burke argued passionately against, by contrast, was the French Revolution and Jacobin thinking, which he saw as expressing an unhistorical, tyrannical spirit and an importunate desire for power. Burke warned specifically against “liberty” in the abstract. Like Burke, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution associated liberty with particular inherited traditions, limited, decentralized government, checks on power, self-restraint, moderation, and a willingness to compromise. Jacobin “freedom,” by contrast, justifies unchecked imperial power. That is the “freedom” for which George W. Bush has become the most prominent advocate (emphasis added)."

And these revolutionaries have the nerve to label themselves neo-"conservative". Now that's chutzpah! I've often observed that today's pseudo-conservative has the nerve of a safecracker. There is apparently no ruse or myth he/she feels incapable of selling to the American people.

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