of the success of any effort to rally a population behind an
all-out war consists in silencing debate about the justice or
efficacy of that war. For those enthralled by the vision as
America as world-liberator, a little dissembling, in the interest
of getting a war going, is a small price to pay in order to
realize their vision.
example, Victor Davis Hanson compares the
counsel of those who urge restraint, gathering of evidence,
and precisely targeted retribution in response to the terrorist
attacks, to recommending, in 1941, that only the specific pilots
who attacked Pearl Harbor be punished.
why didn't Hanson paint a scenario in which 18 Asians had privately
attacked Pearl Harbor, with no evidence (at least none made
public) tying them to anyone else? He could have completed the
picture by having a bunch of neocon pundits recommending that
we carpet bomb all of Asia in response or perhaps, as John
Derbyshire apparently desires, nuke the
entire Third World. Wouldn't this have been a bit more,
in criticizing views like Hanson's, I could hardly do better
than a wonderful
parody from The Onion, which "quotes" Donald Rumsfeld
were lucky enough at Pearl Harbor to be the victim of a craven
sneak attack from an aggressor with the decency to attack military
targets, use their own damn planes, and clearly mark those planes
with their national insignia so that we knew who they were,"
Rumsfeld said. "Since the 21st-century breed of coward is not
affording us any such luxury, we are forced to fritter away
time searching hither and yon for him in the manner of a global
little matters like honesty are unimportant when you are saving
the world, as the neocons proclaim themselves to be doing.
Goldberg spit his coke
onto his keyboard when he read my remark that the
neocons were still socialists at heart. Now, I admit, I should
have made my point more clearly. My meaning was this: When they
ostensibly abandoned socialism, the neocons didn't give up on
the project of organizing all of society based on a vision of
the "common good." They simply changed the vision they sought
to impose on everyone else from that of the socialist commonwealth
to that of the democratic welfare state. Like the French revolutionary
armies under Napoleon, their aim is to bring the blessings of
"liberty" to all people everywhere by the force of arms, killing
anyone who might not want to be liberated. Needless to say,
this is hardly a conservative project.
British philosopher Michael Oakeshott presents, in an essay
entitled "The Masses in Representative Democracy," a useful
model for understanding the neocons. Oakeshott showed how the
dawn of the individual, rising from the communal life of medieval
Europe, posed a problem for those who lacked the internal resources
to form a fully individuated personality, and who could not
bear the responsibility of individual choice not delimited by
rigid communal strictures. As a result of the ensuing tensions,
Western society divided into roughly three classes: individuals,
failed-individuals, and the masses.
poverty of the masses and their resulting resentment was not
so much economic as psychic. Some poor people were able to become
true individuals, while some of the very rich were not. What
the masses resented was the terrifying responsibility of individual
choice that the emerging order placed on them. Gradually, the
desire to pull everyone down to their condition awoke in them.
But the masses themselves were incapable of articulating a program
to achieve that goal. They needed "leaders."
was the perfect role for the failed-individual. Too much his
own person to simply be "one of the crowd," but not having achieved
full individuality, he saw his opportunity in giving the resentment
of the masses coherence and direction. Prominent examples of
such leaders include Marx, Engels, Lenin, Hitler, Mao, and Mussolini.
Oh, yes, and Osama bin Laden surely qualifies, as well. (Of
course, a mass leader, especially one out of power, need not
be as depraved as those on my list. But Hayek showed, in The
Road to Serfdom, why they would tend to be, once the
mass movement seizes power.)
individuals generally have no interest in leading a mass movement,
as such movements can only be organized around an appeal to
a lowest-common-denominator goal. Real individual achievements
magnificent art, great works of intellect and scholarship,
new businesses, ingenious inventions, and so on are only
accomplished by one person, or at most a handful of people,
and only by breaking with the commonplace.
Raimondo's most recent article on antiwar.com
describes the project of the neocon "leaders":
the rest of us are content to live out our mundane little private
lives, these large-domed Deep Thinkers are consumed with visions
of "national greatness"
– a state never fully attainable, it seems, until and unless
the nation is at war. Surely the announced objective of the
Kristolian foreign policy – "benevolent
world hegemony" – is not achievable by any other means.
should note all of the calls for "unity" coming from the neocons.
They are an appeal to mass thought, to crowd passion, and an
implicit condemnation of anyone who should dare to think for
himself. For example, Peter Beinart, editor-in-chief of The
New Republic, says: "This nation is now at war and in
such an environment, domestic political dissent is immoral without
a prior statement of national solidarity, a choosing of sides."
(Please don't complain that Beinart is not a neocon: On this
question, there isn't spitting distance between the neocons
and New-Republic liberalism.)
Jacob Hornberger points out, there
is nothing "unpatriotic" about not mindlessly cheering any war
the government urges on us. In fact, there is no better time
for us to debate our foreign policy then when people's attention
is focused on the issue.
there is another interesting aspect to the calls for "unity":
There are many possible responses we could unite behind: pacifism,
a police operation, a limited war, and so on. Jesse Walker lists
six such approaches to our current situation in an article
at Reason.com. But the neocons' call for unity means
unity behind the project American hegemony that they have
been recommending for years anyway, a project that, by the way,
they hope to lead. Their plea translates to: "Shut up
and stop arguing with us." Despite the jawboning about unity,
they have no problem trashing the moderate approach of Colin
Powell, who, as Secretary of State, is presumably one of the
leaders we should be uniting behind. (See for instance, William
"National Greatness" Kristol's op-ed
knocking Powell for his "distaste for large-scale wars," something
for which Kristol has an almost insatiable desire, or Rich Lowry's
that Powell is a man without ideas. What Lowry sees lacking
in Powell is "vision," by which Lowry means that Powell doesn't
have a grandiose project to reform the world, i.e., he is an
actual, not a nominal, conservative.) Should Bush fail to pursue
the total war the neocons desire, there is no doubt that they
will not be "uniting" behind him either.
paraphrase Joseph Stromberg: individuals of the world, disunite!