Neo-Wilsonianism as a Great-Granddaddy of Neoconservatism
by Karen De Coster
by Karen De Coster
Let's play a little politically correct game here. Would anyone be in favor of using the term "neo-Wilsonian" as versus "neoconservative?" It would make Max Boot a very happy man, and we do want to make Max happy, don't we? Besides, with the relentless focus on all criticism of neoconservatives necessarily translating into bigotry, one must be prudent these days.
Not since post-9/11 has the term neoconservative carried such weight in the popular press. Mainstream newspapers, websites, and magazines are reporting on the neocon worldview, its history, its participants, and its ultimate goals. Never before have conventional journalists so clearly recognized the bigger picture behind US foreign policy goals, as they do now.
While the unswerving focus on the Straussian influence on neoconservatism is indeed precise as well as crucial, I think more reflection needs to be devoted to the Wilsonian influence, which is where some of this modern, power-hungry, American foreign policy first emerged.
Neo-Wilsonianism is a worldview that sees the US laying the foundation for a stable world order while maintaining a grip on the internal social order. We clearly witness this in contemporary times with the slew of international crises in combination with the Patriot Act and other appallingly fascist tactics here at home. This worldview is accomplished by transforming world politics from within, hence a calculated cache of politically powerful mandarins planted within the administration, such as we have now.
Hard Wilsonianism, in Max Boot's view, differs from Soft Wilsonianism in terms of strategy and power. Physical might is right in the Hard Wilsonian view, whereas the Soft Wilsonians prefer pushing diplomacy onto their subjects as opposed to fierce military and nation-building campaigns. The Soft Wilsonians see international cooperation and multilateral agreements as essential to taking over the world, and the Hard Wilsonians prefer the US go it alone without being encumbered by thorny alliances and permission slips as a prerequisite to military invasions.
In strict Wilsonian fashion, contemporary US national interests have been defined in liberal-internationalist terms. Wilson was strongly opposed to European Old World Imperialism, thus he favored the concept of international alliances in order to advance US interests. This ritual became strikingly obvious, even to the unapprised man in the street, with the onset of George Bush Sr.'s approach to the first war on Iraq. How quickly strategies changed. George Bush Jr.'s approach has tossed his father's strategic alliances in favor of the go-it-alone approach preferred by the neocons.
Surely, Bush Junior gave the public the impression that a "coalition of the willing" was behind the Iraq attack, whereas, as author James Bovard refers to it in Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice, and Peace to Rid the World of Evil, "While the 1991 anti-Iraq coalition consisted of 30-plus nations that committed their military forces, the 2003 version was more a list of foreign government officials who signed on a dotted line."
Straussian-influenced neoconservatives are partial to a unilateral approach that eschews international coalitions as being too oppressive and burdensome. After all, Leo Strauss promoted the notion of an elite cabal of politicos with intellectual superiority to be the ideal ruling class. Note Bush's affinity for filling the halls of the White House with longtime stalwarts of the neocon cause, and understand that this group circumscribes policy, while Bush merely puts a face on it. Straussian elitism has become the driving force behind the neoconservative justification for a cagey inner circle that acts to wholly control an entire international policy, while allowing for the symbolic gesturing of a president that does little to actually influence them.
By and large, Hard Wilsonianism is a thespian blueprint for world domination — a term used by Tom DiLorenzo — and the roots for this were spun, perhaps most noticeably, during Wilson's crusade to stem the tide of German imperialism during the aftermath of the rise of Bolshevism. Theodore Roosevelt certainly explicated an early form of intervention, so it can be said that Woodrow Wilson inherited a somewhat existing neo-interventionist mentality, and developed it further to conform to his liberal internationalism.
During Woodrow Wilson's reign, Wilsonites promoted American ideals and morals abroad due to their perception of our undeniable national superiority, and that mantra has been repeated with reckless abandon throughout the current Iraq escapade. To create a new international order, the Hard Wilsonians, or neoconservatives, seek for the US to be the carrier of all norms and values, and the promotion of American ideals abroad is essential to gaining a foothold for the acceptance of such claptrap. N. Gordon Levin, Jr., author of Woodrow Wilson and World Politics: America's Response to War and Revolution, called this "rationalizing and pacifying the political universe."
Wilson saw himself as building his political thought upon Burkeian foundations. He saw Burke's opposition to the French Revolution as being based on "progressive, liberal pragmatism and oriented toward a sober, provident, and ordered progress in affairs." Wilson, in fact, thought he was a combination of the best of both liberal and conservative ideologies. He actually fancied himself as the American answer to the Brits' Burke and Gladstone.
As Max Boot has stated so deprecatingly, outside of a few "fever swamps" — mainly of the Buchananite persuasion — there is no movement to be found on the Right that is endeared to non-interventionism. In fact, the Republican Right is so non-endeared so as to be staking out a series of plots for "liberalizing" the entire Middle East under the celebrated pretext that liberalized democracies don't dare throw household dishes at one another, let alone start wars or toss WMDs one another's way. If we accept this view, we accept world domination by the US as spelled out in what Fukuyama calls the "not-so-hidden idealist agenda that is encapsulated in the term "regime change'" or "political re-engineering.'"
The question often asked is — was Bush really a Soft Wilsonian, only to be turned into a Hard Wilsonian-neoconservative post-9/11? That's hardly worth deliberating, because he's nothing more than an elected figurehead in the long run; a face and a Good Old Boy drawl that the American public can accept and have empathy and for, unlike the case-hardened faces of Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, & Co. What really matters is the background posse that leads this warship out to sea, and Bush is the sheep's clothing that the neoconservative posse wears. He appears to be non-ideological, with no passion for any particular principles. He is indifferent to anything but the outcome of gaining power and control within an expanding empire that he was chosen to lead.
In the neoconservative view, antiwar conservatives and libertarians are extremist outliers that have strayed too far off course to even bother worrying about for the most part. The neocons frown on antiwar feistiness, and recklessly draw parallels between anti-Imperialism and anti-Americanism in order to delegitimize the criticism of their detractors. Nevertheless, we must keep after them with both guns drawn and fully loaded. In fact, we need to emphasize the neocon foreign policy agenda even further, even where the Wilsonian worldview is concerned. There can be no overemphasizing the Wilsonian-Straussian-Neoconservative chronicles that depict a world of one liberation after another, with nary a stopover in between.
After all, a great-granddaddy doesn't pass on all of his genes, but surely, Woodrow Wilson has seen to it that at least some of his genetic material has passed down to his foreign policy progeny that now run the White House. Hard Wilsonians, Soft Wilsonians, Straussians, neoconservatives, and whatnot, with their endless parade of wars, are the single greatest threat to American liberty that our generation, and those that follow us, must confront.
September 11, 2003
Karen De Coster, CPA, [send her mail] is a paleolibertarian freelance writer, graduate student in Austrian Economics, and a business professional from Michigan. Her first book is currently in the works. See her Mises Institute archive for more online articles, and check out her website
Copyright © 2003 Karen De Coster