On Tuesday, Sept 11, the date of the WTC terrorist attacks, Ron Paul is giving a keynote policy address at the influential Johns Hopkins Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C.
His topic is "A Traditional Non-Intervention Foreign Policy."
If you wanted to quibble, you could. Personally, I would have preferred it to read,
"A Rational Non-Interventionist Foreign Policy."
Or "A Constitutional Non-Interventionist Foreign Policy."
Because there are traditions and traditions. And while those of us who are intellectually of a conservative bent tend to give any tradition the benefit of the doubt, it will not do to consider non-intervention a good by virtue only of its history, when history is composted with the bones of institutions that rotted from the inside. Traditions are prone to developing hardening of the categories — as some wit noted — and if we classify non-intervention as one, then we are surely inviting some clever update of it. We are asking for the Monroe Doctrine to be turned into Manifest Destiny — with gender neutrality and racial sensitivity thrown in to certify it kosher.
But the Constitution of America — whatever its alleged and real flaws (and it isn’t free of them) — has been a guiding light to this nation and countless others not because it is a tradition but because the principles it embodies are rational, in the highest sense of the word, and because they are worthy of emulation. The Constitution is universal in its appeal. But it is universal because it persuades by its reasonableness, not because it imposes itself over the breadth of the globe as the law of an empire.
The distinction is of some importance today.
Because there are those who demand exactly the opposite — an interventionist foreign policy — for exactly the same reason — universality. You could call them "liberventionists." They are the humanitarian bombers, like Mr. Hitchens.
(That is, when he can find the time in between conducting his jihad against what he likes to call god but sounds more like theological literalism.)
The liberventionists were the people who demanded that we go into Iraq in the first place. Also for universal reasons — one of which was to rescue Iraqi women from patriarchal Islamic traditions.
Even though Iraq, under Saddam, was never Islamicist — until the U.S went into it.
The rhetoric of war quickly sidelined such inconvenient facts.
I am afraid it might sideline this one:
Requiring a war to be constitutional is not a quaint tradition waiting to be made obsolete by age and time, like a spinster running out of marriage proposals.
It is an imperative, since constitutionality is the only language possible in a country whose citizens have such divergent backgrounds and hold such contradictory views that they might as well live on the opposite sides of the globe.
The constitution is the only form of reasonableness available to us any more.
The only kind of universal appeal that appeals finally to something more than naked force.
The constitution is a different kind of universality. Of "how" rather than "what."
It points to procedures and ways of "going on" — not to results and places where we ought to arrive.
The insightful English political philosopher Michael Oakeshott described the difference between the two approaches as the difference between the rules of a civil association (such as a nation) and that of an enterprise association (such as a business).
The constitution is the governing law of the civil association called America.
On the other hand, the new laws this administration is replacing the Constitution with are different creatures. They are the regulations of the business called US Govt. Inc. US Govt. Inc. is not a nation at all, but a vast holding company with unlimited liability for its innumerable tiny shareholders and none at all for the handful of directors at the top. And with many of its most valuable assets hidden off-shore through international trade agreements.
The dangers of a change from association to enterprise are self-evident: If we already know before-hand where we want to get to, we may be tempted to hijack the laws — and logic itself — to that end.
But what could be wrong with that, some might ask? Aren’t freedom, democracy, and human rights "social goods" for which our laws should strive? And in countries beyond the reach of our laws, shouldn’t we impose them through our military?
But language, like logic, is slippery unless it is rooted in something deeper than either words or minds. As one commentator on Oakeshott writes:
“Words such as ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’ and ‘rights’ have long histories and their meanings have shifted over time. Further, when unscrupulous operators use them to rally supporters in some great cause, such words become hazy promises of better things to come. The warm glow of anticipation may be as deceptive as the witches’ promises to Macbeth…”
Our words and our minds reach deep into our bodies in a way we don’t fully understand, except that they operate together. It is not just that the way we think affects the way we act, but the converse: The way we act affects the way we think.
If we violate our consciences, we will tend to alter our consciences after the fact. And then alter our language and our logic, as well.
To be truly rational, we need to go beyond disembodied words and logic to a reason that is rooted in our bodies, our intuitions, and our consciences — as they are inviolate in us, as individuals.
That means that our rules and our institutions must preserve us ultimately as free individuals, while preserving equally the freedom of all other individuals. My liberty cannot infringe on yours. No, not even if I am the President of the United States. Even the President must be bound by the Constitution’s rules.
That is not a very good thing for US Gvt Inc. Because following the rules does not always help an enterprise association (whether it is a business or a state), reach the goal it sets for itself. It might even hinder it.
But following the rules is a marvelous thing for the civil association called America. Because by following the rules and conventions of the constitution citizens can let themselves be seen as acting in good faith, not only here at home, but everywhere.
It is adherence to the Constitution that makes us a nation of laws and not of men.
Without that, there can be no good faith.
And without good faith, we will no longer be part of a civil association of individuals, but only insignificant units in an enterprise that can only grow more and more barbaric.
Lila Rajiva [send her mail] is the author of the ground-breaking study, The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the American Media (MR Press, 2005), and the co-author with Bill Bonner of Mobs, Messiahs and Markets (Wiley, 2007). Visit her blog.