Thursday, October 26, 2006

John Judis on "The Origins of Conservative Foreign Policy"

In 1985 John Judis published an enlightening paper called "The Origins of Conservative Foreign Policy". Although a look at my previous posts on Why Pseudo-Conservatives are not "Conservative" show why I don't agree with Judis' acquiescence in the radical right's misappropriation of the term "conservative", he made some very interesting points about the historical origins of the right's Jacobin-like foreign policy. It is interesting to note how often so-called "neo-conservative" policies originated with former leftists who were traumatized by "The God That Failed", i.e., the Soviet Union as avante garde champion of the ideals of the left. It is perhaps not amiss to consider the horrendous damage the success of the Bolshevik Revolution did to the pre-Bolshevik left.

Although Freud was a genius, as a psychoanalytically trained psychologist I have come to view him as a seriously flawed genius. Nonetheless, Freud had a concept that often seems intriguingly appropriate to what happened to "neo-conservative" anti-communists like Burnham; Freud called it "identification with the aggressor." Freud's idea was that those who had been the victims of aggression often tried to "defend" and strengthen themselves by adopting some of the tactics and characteristics of whomever had victimized them. Feeling victimized and betrayed by Stalinism, ex-leftists often later adopted tactics and strategy very reminiscent of Stalin's. Being heavily influenced by the ideological announcements of Stalinism, and taking these for the reality of Soviet foreign policy, ex-Trotskyists like James Burnham and Irving Kristol, found themselves advocating that America adopt foreign policy strategies that reflected the "liberationist" ideology of Stalinist foreign policy. I differentiate Stalinist ideology from actual Soviet foreign policy actions because I strongly believe they were quite different from one another. And Freud or no Freud, one thing I have learned as a psychologist is to pay attention to what people do and not what they say.

One of the most fascinating phenomena of post World War II history is the bitter irony of former Socialists, who understandably were disenchanted by Stalinism and ultimately vigorously opposed it, adopting Stalinist-like strategy to oppose Stalinism. As I read Judis' account of James Burnham's ideological evolution this occurred to Burnham: "Burnham’s analysis now rested on a double standard. On one hand, he still contended that communist doctrine was merely myth, but on the other hand he freely quoted from Marx, Lenin, and Stalin in trying to demonstrate that the Soviet goal was not merely national security or imperial enhancement, but world revolution.... Like the disillusioned Communists with whom he would later collaborate, he had adopted a kind of inverted Stalinism.... In Containment or Liberation, published in 1953, Burnham made his differences with [George] Kennan and the Democrats explicit. While Kennan (in Burnham’s words) understood the Soviet Union as an 'extension of Czarist imperialism,' Burnham insisted that it was 'an entirely new revolutionary power'.... In The Struggle for the World, Burnham’s strategy appeared to mirror that of Stalin’s [calling] upon the U.S. to undertake an 'open policy of liberation toward the USSR and its satellites and captive nations'."

Whatever the origins of pseudo-conservative Jacobin foreign policy, and it was caused by multiple interacting factors, it is a profoundly baneful policy that may ultimately be the downfall of American world power.

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