Claremont vs. The Founding Fathers

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If there was ever any doubt over whether the Claremont Institute was anything but a propaganda shill for the Republican Party, Ken Masugi erased it with his recent fawning and swooning over President Bush’s state of the union address. In a January 29 article on the Institute’s web site he gushes over Bush’s speech like a school girl smitten by puppy love. The speech was “an impressive example of focus” that was supposedly “inspired by the Declaration of Independence,” informed by the work of Plato, and followed directly in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln himself.

Masugi is just beside himself that the president promised not only to eliminate evil from the world, but also “to change men’s souls.” This is the real “regime change” that is about to occur, Masugi yelped.

As is typical of virtually everything to come out of the Claremont Institute, Masugi’s rendition of American history in support of the Republican Party’s foreign policy is precisely the opposite of the truth. He heaps lavish praise on President Bush for supposedly bringing Congress and the American people “closer to [their] founding principles, in their hearts and in their nation.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

Which founding principles, exactly, is Masugi referring to? Well, military invasions of any country on earth where “tyranny” exists, for one thing. “Men are intended by God to be free,” Masugi lectures, so that if there is “a tyrant abroad” it is the duty of the U.S. military establishment to “liberate” people from tyranny. Iraqis are about to be “liberated, not conquered,” he assures us.

President Bush “appears” to be saying that the American Revolution “could be said to arise in the soul of each and every human being,” which supposedly justifies violent “regime change” throughout the world. “When President Bush declares that we will not permit the triumph of violence in the affairs of men . . . he means this at home as well as abroad, within men’s souls and between nations.” Translating from Claremontese, this means that President Bush, with the intellectual support of warmongering neocons like Masugi, reserves the right to invade and conquer any nation on earth if he decides that soul changing is needed in those countries. He will do so even if it means mass murdering thousands —or hundreds of thousands — of people, including innocent civilians. This is nothing less than the deification of the president of the United States, something that surely would have motivated Jefferson and Washington to plot another revolution

These ideas are as far from the foreign policy ideology of the founding fathers as is imaginable. Jefferson and Washington espoused the ideology of commercial relations with all nations but entangling alliances with none. Either Masugi is lying through is teeth, or he and his Claremont colleagues are so poorly educated and dim witted that they don’t realize this.

What they — and President Bush — are espousing is the disastrous foreign policy interventionism of Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat. And Wilson very explicitly renounced and repudiated the domestic and foreign policy philosophy of the founding fathers. In his book, The New Freedom (p. 20), Wilson announced his undying opposition to the Jeffersonian philosophy of “that government governs best which governs least.” “We used to think in the old-fashioned days [i.e., the days of the founders] that . . . the ideal of government was for every man to be left alone and not interfered with, except when he interfered with somebody else . . . . That was the idea that obtained in Jefferson’s time. But we are coming now to realize that . . . the law has to step in and create new conditions under which we may live . . .”

Wilson deified the American state; the founding fathers feared it and sought to bind it “by the chains of the Constitution,” as Jefferson said. Wilson applied to the U.S. government the attributes of Jesus Christ. Masugi marvels over how President Bush in his state of the union address “adopted “the stance of a preacher” when he spoke of using the coercive powers of the U.S. military to “change men’s souls.” Wilson invoked Abraham Lincoln to “justify” his imperialistic impulses; that is the whole reason for the Claremont Institutes existence — to wrap Republican Party politicians in the moral mantle of Lincoln. Hence Masugi’s asinine statement that President Bush is “following Abraham Lincoln before him . . .”

Wilson claimed to be engaged in creating heaven on earth with American intervention in World War I. President Bush’s alleged soul-changing sounds like much of the same. On Independence Day in 1918 Woodrow Wilson falsely claimed that the founding fathers “spoke and acted not for a single people only, but for all mankind. We are in this war to fulfill the promise of their vision.” This is the Masugi/Claremont/Bush philosophy, and it is pure nonsense. Jefferson would have been the last person on earth to support a massive military establishment capable of pursuing the insane policy of “eradicating world tyranny.”

Like President Bush’s absurd promise to stamp out tyranny everywhere, Wilson said in the same speech that his goal as president was “the destruction of every arbitrary power anywhere . . . ” Like Masugi, he incredibly claimed that the founders themselves would have approved of such hyper-interventionism.

Wilson was an imperialist, and so are Bush, Masugi, and the rest of the Claremont/neocon political establishment. Wilson proclaimed to love the German people but to despise their government. Therefore, he said, hundreds of thousands of Germans must be killed by the American war machine. This same sophistry was repeated by President Bush, and praised by Masugi, when the president argued in his speech that the Iraqis are to be “liberated, not conquered.” This, of course, will require killing thousand of Iraqis, including hapless military conscripts as well as civilians.

The Claremontistas “rationalize” their support for imperialism for the same reason that Woodrow Wilson did: to ostensibly spread the principles of the Declaration of Independence across the world. This was one of Wilson’s “Fourteen Points.” His application of this principle led to what Charles Beard called “perpetual war for perpetual peace,” and the calamities that followed World War I. It is entirely likely that had Woodrow Wilson not got the U.S. involved in World War I, the Kaiser might have abdicated to his son and created a constitutional monarchy. If so, Adolf Hitler may never have been anything more than another failed “artist.”

During the twentieth century Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy imperialism bloated the size and scope of government beyond anything the founders could have imagined, and far beyond what is called for in the Constitution. It led to a terrible burden of taxation, turned the presidency into a quasi-dictatorship, made a mockery out of the principle of popular sovereignty, whittled away at our civil liberties, contributed mightily to the regulatory regimentation of our economy, and gave birth to the hopelessly corrupt and budget-busting military-industrial complex. Masugi and his Claremont colleagues are loudly cheering for more of the same, under the patently absurd guise of remaining true to the principles of the founding fathers. A more fitting name for this outfit would be the Orwell Institute.

Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is the author of the LRC #1 bestseller, The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (Forum/Random House, 2002) and professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland.

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