Wilsonism: Impractical Pragmatics

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The Empire
of Great Britain has been oft-described as an Empire acquired by
accident. If the United States should ever plaster together one
of its own, formally, then it deserves no better identifier than
"an Empire built through mistakes." The source of the
bulk of America's foreign policy mistakes, ones which the Republicans
are righteously defensive about, the Democrats are cautiously sniffing
out, and the anti-war movement is cheering about, is the foreign
policy doctrine known as Wilsonism. Its error, as a doctrine, is
the source of the mutual entanglements that grow in the headlines
as we all grow older. The error itself is revealed not in the enemies
it as a doctrine has created, but in the enemies created as a result
of its application. Given America's support of Israel, the legitimately
elected Hamas authority in Palestine can be counted as one of them.

The error is:
reifying a procedure.

This error,
when the procedure is democracy, is committed in commonplace talk
all the time. Democracy does not ensure some sort of metaphysical
equality; no system can do that, beyond one that recognizes our
equal membership in the human race. Democracy simply ensures that
each citizen has an equal amount of power in the election of a certain
government official. This procedure has long been one worth dying
for – but it cannot be changed into an end in itself.

Observe what
would happen if it did, in a system of elected district attorneys.
Any elected D.A. has a mandate from the electorate to prosecute
crime. He or she represents the electorate in the courtroom in criminal
cases. His or her decision to file charges is done as a legitimate
representative of the electorate, just as a legislator who introduces
a bill does so as one. Hence, if democracy is a value in and of
itself, the prosecutor is the legitimate agent of democracy once
a prosecution is undertaken. What does this role imply about the
defendant? What does this imply about the proper onus in
a criminal trial? Given that the prosecutor is the legitimate voice
of the people, does not democracy reified imply that the onus should
be upon the defendant to prove his or her innocence? After all,
who is the voice of the people in the People's Courtroom and who
is not? Why would — how could – the legitimate agent of the
people file a frivolous charge?

The system
of liberty is based upon individual rights trumping democratic freedoms.
The above paragraph should reveal one of the main reasons why.

In a very real
way, World War 2 was Wilson's war. The Nazi government at the time
did make a case that the dictatorship of Hitler was "democratic
enough," with precedents and comparisons supplied for skeptics,
such as: it is a longstanding tradition in democracy to suspend
even democracy itself during times of real or apprehended war; our
electoral system is just as corrupt as yours; etc. In order to declare
the Nazi State to be "undemocratic," the bar of what constitutes
"democratic" had to be raised. "Bye-bye" had
to be said to the old-style electoral corruption (which included
semi-open voter intimidation) in order to make the charge of "undemocratic"
credible. This stopgap will not survive an attack by the first dictatorship
voted into existence through, or by, a legislature that was elected
through a U.N.-monitored election.

Nor will it
survive — except through propaganda attempts — an attack by the
United States, or NATO, or another U.S.-led "coalition of the
willing," on a democratic State like the current one in Iran.
The stopgap of labeling a hostile regime "undemocratic"
would fall to pieces should the electorate of a newly created "Wilson
village" State, like Iraq or Afghanistan, legitimately elect
a government openly hostile, or even bellicose, to the United States,
which the Iranian State is now. "We don't care about what kind
of elected government there is as long as it is elected" doesn't
square off too well with "Those ingrates! Why'd they vote that

tolerates international ingratitude up to the level of bellicosity.
There's no check on it in the Wilsonian method. If any American
has ever wondered why my fellow Canadians have gotten away with
a continual spate of not only anti-Americanism but also plain meddling
in United States politics, the above explains why. There's another
consequence of Wilsonism that kicks in when the level of international
ingratitude gets too high to be tolerated anymore.

is the door-opener to Empire. The reason for this should be
evident now: if the legitimately elected governments of the world
have the democratic right to beggar and even bleed the United States,
and the right of each nation's electorate to choose its own government
must be strictly observed, what's to stop a group of outraged American
taxpayers from lobbying foreign voters to vote in a more U.S.-friendly
way? What's the "Golden Rule" in practical politics?

It's only a
short leap from that pragmatic to adding "No Taxation Without
Representation" to the brew. If the policy of the U.S. government
is "give the foreign governments what they ask for, right or
wrong," and explicit legislative oversight is gently removed
from the process, what's to stop a red-blooded American from concluding,
on a de facto basis, that foreign legislatures are taxing
the U.S. taxpayer? And that such taxation demands de facto

Thus, Wilsonism
refutes itself if taxpayer's rights are added. The only way
to rescue it from its inherent collapse into Empire, given the added
rights of taxpayers, is to make every nation equally un-sovereign,
through world government. What began as a vision of independent
democratic nations, based on the principle of "self-determination
of nations," ends with the reality of every nation being stripped
of its independence.

The only
way to prevent this kind of self-contradictory collapse is through
putting the taxpayer underfoot. This hobbles the crawl to open
Empire, whether American or World, but at the price of stripping
the tax-paying electorate of a fundamental democratic right, one
which long pre-dates the proclamation of the Rights of Man: control
of the government purse by the voters. Thus, Wilsonism refutes
itself whether taxpayer rights are added or not.

The fundamental
contradiction in Wilsonism is the assumption that all democratic
States' foreign policies can be sealed off from their domestic policies
— regardless of the demands of each electorate. This makes the policy
of fomenting the democratic self-determination of nations refute
itself. A subsidiary error is to assume that the effects of a "war
for democracy" can simply be wished away once the war ends.
This is easy for the military personnel who pack up and go home
once the war is over, but it is not that easy for the people who
are stuck in a land which, rightly or wrongly, was turned into a
battlefield by the world's most powerful military. (The swift collapse
of the South Vietnam government should be reviewed with this in
mind.) How would you like to live in a town where a big, muscular
man went around proclaiming jollily that he supports everyone's
"right to fight," even if it means they throw a punch
at him? And sometimes asks a few others to try him out on it?

This big muscular
dude is an accurate symbol for how the United States, when under
the sway of Wilsonism, is viewed in the world. The big boy never
loses a battle, after all.

such adventurism has been restrained by the American ethic of self-responsibility
in morals – individual sovereignty of conscience. Every voter,
as holder of the sovereign franchise, had the self-imposed obligation
to consider the moral implications of government policy, and to
take steps to restrain an immoral policy of government, or even
an immoral government period, if things got bad enough. This tradition
is the root of the bulk of the "peace crap" in U.S. domestic
geo-political discourse.

The Bush Administration
has suffered a decline in popularity, which roughly correlates with
the distance it has gone from just retribution for the 9/11 attacks
to plain Wilsonism. No, President Bush did not recently "wimp
out" when he said that he regretted saying "bring it on"
earlier, he's coming to his senses. The tragic drain of President
Bush's popularity — his self-sacrifice for the "noble ideal"
of Wilsonism – provides a real-time demonstration that, in Ayn Rand's
words, "contradictions cannot exist in reality." What's
especially tragic about it is that none of the ensnarlments have
anything to do with the United States as a specific nation. I can
assure you that if my own land of Canada decided to pick up and
hoist the same Wilsonistic banner at the military level, or if any
other nation does so, then it will get ensnarled in exactly the
same way as America is. In this sense, the above analysis is no
more anti-American than it is anti-any other nation, including my

23, 2006

M. Ryan [send him mail]
is a Canadian with a well-known habit of blundering into fields
for which he is inadequately prepared. He is currently working on
a book on Objectivism. Visit his

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