and Total War
are rightly angry about the outrageous murders of September 11.
No American wishes to see them unpunished. Neo-conservatives, however,
are offering us their usual program as the solution. "Donít
look at the several decades behind that screen!" they order
us, although their usual program seems part of the problem. History
began all over again, two weeks ago, they grumble, on the day that
"changed everything," and therefore, one might think,
War Reflex Kicks In
Ledeen writing in National Review Online (September 20) made
the inevitable comparison with World War II. We dealt with suicide
attackers in the war with Japan, he wrote, and "improv[ed]
our defenses so as to kill them before they hit us, and by destroying
the country that launched them. We have to do that again"
(my italics). Here Mr. Ledeen has alluded to the ingrained US habit
of making total war.
war consists of making war on the enemyís entire society, thereby
obliterating the distinction between combatants and civilians, which
had been at the center of the notion of civilized warfare. The Declaration
of Independence complained about this mode of warmaking, but it
has been set US policy since at least 1862, perhaps earlier where
Indians were concerned. By now, it is all mere reflex. An enemy
appears, US leaders instantly demand unconditional surrender, cities
are flattened, and references are made to General Sherman, Hell,
American moral greatness, and "collateral damage."
the present situation, where actual American civilians have been
murdered by non-state entities (as the phrase goes), the old reflexes
have naturally kicked in. Mr. Ledeen wishes to "kill the terrorists,"
which seems fair enough, but wishes also to "destroy the regimes"
which have helped them. Can total war be far off?
War for Perpetual Revolution
total war is but a part of Mr. Ledeenís ambitious program of world
improvement. He writes: "But we should have no misgivings about
our ability to destroy tyrannies. It is what we do best. It comes
naturally to us, for we are the one truly revolutionary country
in the world, as we have been for more than 200 years. Creative
destruction is our middle name. We do it automatically, and that
is precisely why the tyrants hate us, and are driven to attack us."
takes some time to assimilate such a tall order. Around the edges,
little questions tug at the mind. This "creative destruction,"
for example, does Mr. Ledeen derive it from Josef Schumpeter or
from Mikhail Bakunin? If it comes from the former, it is merely
faulty economics; if from the latter (the craziest of the 19th-century
communist anarchists), Mr. Ledeen is keeping strange company these
days. There is in addition the small matter of the neo-cons and
Reaganites believing their own Sorelian myth. They believe, as the
Athenian ambassadors told the Melians, that "We have the right
to rule because we overthrew the Persians."
Soviets, whatever. But there is a very big problem at the heart
of Mr. Ledeenís revolutionary manifesto, one I shall tease out with
a little more help from his essay. "Secretary Powell"
must, says Ledeen, "fully support democratic resistance movements
in the terrorist countries" that, or round up the ever-vanishing
moderates, wherever they may be. We must, therefore, sponsor a revolution
in Iraq and, apparently, in a host of other places.
so: "it is time once again to export the democratic revolution,"
just as we did under dear old Ronnie. Otherwise, our enemies, having
waxed under welkin, will once more attack us and this is supposed
to "explain" the horrendous crimes of September 11 thereby
"forcing us to take up our revolutionary burden...." We
are met with a fearful threat and a wonderful opportunity.
are certainly both "fear and vaunting" to be found here,
to use Garet Garrettís phrase. But where, oh where, have we heard
this sort of thing before? Our former Soviet adversaries come to
mind, but they can wait. Some precedents for the neo-conservativesí
armed doctrine are quite old. Of an Asiatic variant, Professor
Eric Voegelin writes:
empire of the Lord Genghis Khan is de jure in existence even
if it is not yet realized de facto. All human societies are
part of the Mongol empire by virtue of the Order of God, even if
they are not yet conquered. The actual expansion of the empire,
therefore, follows a very strict process of law. Societies whose
turn for actual integration into the empire has come must be notified
by ambassadors... and requested to make their submission. If they
refuse, or perhaps kill the ambassadors, they are rebels, and military
sanctions will be taken against them. The Mongol empire, thus, by
its own legal order has never conducted a war but only punitive
expeditions against rebellious subjects of the empire."
"US" or "American" for "Mongol" in
the above passage and you are well on your way to grasping the enormity
of the imperial claim. Especially interesting is the claim that
the true empire "has never conducted a war but only punitive
expeditions against rebellious subjects." This was Lincolnís
theme-song in 1861 and it has come back to haunt us more than once
since World War II.
perhaps it is unfair to bring up Oriental Despotism (politically
incorrect, you know), or Voegelin, from whose writings National
Review and Young Americans for Freedom once extracted a slogan
especially when other examples lie nearer to hand. The trail
leads to our very own New England Puritans, whose millennialist
world-outlook is treated in Professor Ernest Lee Tuvesonís Redeemer
Nation. As the 19th century ran its course, the
debate amongst millennialists was won by the post-millennialists.
The upshot was a never-ending American mission to reform, Christianize,
and republicanize the world by means of the central state. There
was an end, actually, but it involved the second coming of
Christ, once all this reforming and republicanizing had been achieved.
By the 20th century, the Christian bits had largely fallen
away from the great US moral crusade, as far as the policy-makers
were concerned, even if those themes still play in flyover country.
19th-century American expansionists each new conquest
of contiguous land was a great victory for republican liberty. It
seems to have been Andrew ("Ruthless") Jackson himself,
who in 1843 coined the phrase about "extending the area of
freedom." The Mexican War is an interesting test case. In May
1847, the New York Herald wrote, in terms which would please
any latter-day neo-conservative Boy Scout, that "The universal
Yankee nation can regenerate and disenthrall the people of Mexico
in a few years; and we believe it is a part of our destiny to civilize
that beautiful country and enable its inhabitants to appreciate
some of the many advantages and blessings they enjoy."
more than a year thereafter, the United States Democratic Review
is in a state of suspended animation. She is in fact dead. She must
have resurrection. She must be electrified restored. This American
Republic is strong enough to do anything that requires strength.
It is vital enough to inject life even into the dead."
think that more is involved than my "isolationist" blinders,
if I spot a trend in these quotes and one which has not yet run
its course, although it may yet run us into the ground. Repeat after
me: Blasphemy, Gnosticism, heresy, secularized post-millennialism,
Operation Infinite Justice, can-do, know-how, "we saved the
village by destroying it." But, after all, any Redeemer Nation
capable of healing the sick and raising the dead, will whip a few
Wily Pathans in a trice, whatever problems the British and the Russians
had with them.
Lightning, Terrible Swift Swords
brings us to Lincoln. Many Americans, especially those in the leadership
classes, love nothing so much as a great moral crusade. To be very
brief: having "resurrected" parts of Mexico by annexing
them, American expansionists fell into dissension about whether
or not there should be slavery in these new territories. Twelve
years after the extension of liberty to the southwest, Southerners
committed the ultimate heresy against the new political religion
and left the union.
Lincoln and his fellow inventors of total war then thrashed the
South back into the loving arms of union, all the while striking
tragic poses about how much it hurt them to do so. As a man of no
known religious views, Lincoln may represent the first secular high
priest of US millennialism. As such, he remains in great demand.
Professor Harry Jaffa, Lincoln defender and High Cold Warrior, wrote
an essay against states rights and in favor of illimitable power
for the federal government in 1963. Almost in passing, he
commented: "The heart of Americaís defenses, in this nuclear
age, consists in its ability to destroy sixty, eighty, or one hundred
million of a possible enemyís population with a single stroke."
I know perfectly well that sundry Cold War ghouls like Herman Kahn,
Robert MacNamara, and Henry the K, wrote such things all the time
and had clever names for them (e.g., "MAD"). But isnít
it a bit casual in an essay opposing states rights? It
would be hard to write those prospective 100 million dead Russians
off as collaterals, wouldnít it? If you can kill off 25% of all
Southern white males of military age between 1861 and 1865, why
shouldnít you plan wiping out any Russian or Chinese city
bigger than a bread box?
they never used their plan. We are told, indeed, that such plans
were all for show, since everyone realized that nuclear bombs were
not in fact weapons in any historically useful sense of the term.
I leave to one side the little "tactical" ones, about
which we have heard so much lately.
think we have stumbled, here, upon a major disadvantage of moral
crusades. I grant it is one of our great traditions to turn our
wars into a moral crusades against Ultimate Evil. Woodrow Wilson
might be mentioned. Alas, it becomes hard to settle political questions
by negotiation or even war, if every foreseeable question takes
place in an Eternally Returning 1861 or 1941, haunted by an Eternally
Returning Fort Sumter or a (misrepresented) Munich 1938. It becomes
harder to end wars short of Unconditional Surrender the numskull
slogan FDR hit upon while reliving the 1860s.
we shall soon come back to Mr. Ledeen. I should mention that Karl
Marx and Frederick Engels were fans of US imperialism. Engels wrote
in the Neue
Rheinische Zeitung, February 15, 1849: "Is it a misfortune
that magnificent California was seized from the lazy Mexicans who
did not know what to do with it?.... All impotent nations must in
the last analysis, owe a debt to those who, under the laws of historic
necessity, incorporate them into a great empire.... Evidently, such
results cannot be obtained without crushing a few sweet little flowers."
resurrection and revivification by the Forces of History. And why
not? Hegelís system sought to answer a key problem in Protestant
theology. Marx sought to answer the same problem in secular terms.
It would not be surprising if the Hegelians, the latter-day Marxists,
and the US postmillennialists, secularized or otherwise, should
all converge in a great gnostic crusade for world betterment by
benevolent imperialism. Why not? They all believe in creating the
Kingdom of God on Earth by incorporating all of society into the
state. Indeed, human freedom is not even possible outside the embrace
of the US empire. Just ask Mr. Fukuyama.
Kardelj, one of the Yugoslav Vice Presidents, wrote an anti-Chinese
polemic in favor of "peaceful coexistence" in the 1960s.
He attacked as "Trotskyite" the Chinese line of exporting
the revolution by force. He ridiculed it as "social Bonapartism."
In other words, he questioned as "Trotskyite" precisely
the position Mr. Ledeen represents as neo-conservative. Is there
a redundancy here?
will be told that export of a Good Revolution by force is altogether
a different matter from export of a Bad Revolution by force. Apparently,
anything and everything are permitted those who have good intentions
(we must take their word for the good intentions), especially if
their political religion involves salvation via US democratic world
empire and worship of Abraham Lincoln both as prophet and dying
have the word of Messrs. Ledeen and Fukuyama that itís all for the
best. Those who get in the way in Dresden, Tokyo, Indo-China, or
Iraq have merely paid the proper price for failing to come up to
our high standards of morality. Civilians or not, their lack of
moral collateral justifies the damage done them. If the Cause is
just, indeed infinitely so, how dare those blown to smithereens
object? As the Redleg officer says in "Outlaw Josie Wales":
"Doiní right ainít got no end."
seems possible to make the modest suggestion that Mr. Ledeenís chiliastic
crusade for global democracy and other selfless philanthropies rests
on a long-running US morality play with roots deep in the 19th
century. The actors come and go, but the show endures, albeit on
the same sorry foundations of bad theology secularized and wedded
to the central state. Whether sordid material interests Open Doors
and Central Asian oil fields enter into the case, is best left
to another occasion. The ideological front holds our interest just
Eternal Return to Myth
crises, the spokesmen for the US state turn to their sources of
inspiration. That is understandable. Still, there is something rather
strange about David S. Broderís "Echoes of Lincoln" (Washington
Post Online, September 23). He walks us through the honored
dead and makes the comparisons between Lincoln and Bush, their determination,
he writes that a friend of the President asked him, "Do you
realize that he [Bush] is the first president since Lincoln who
has given the military an order to fire on fellow Americans?"
Broder finds this "riveting." That would not be my word.
can easily grant that if the fourth plane had to be shot down (and
this is still unclear), a case could be made for the decision. But
Broder wishes us to admire the toughness, the ruthlessness.
I know it is widely assumed that below the Mason Dixon Line we do
not read much; but I wonder whether this time of much-heralded
emergency, with the corresponding need for "national unity,"
is the best occasion to praise a Presidentís proposed toughness
by comparing him with someone who ordered the army to fire on Southerners?
I do wish these Yankees would quit fighting that old war.
wonders, in the end, if there is not more wrong with a man who is
positively happy at the prospect of a US President firing
on Americans than with, say, a man who promoted a man who promoted
wonders as well if the world ever needed saving so much from Godless
Communism as from the various forms of gnostic, universalist "Imperial
Americanism" presently on sale at inflated prices by the usual
hucksters. There was one advantage to the Sovietsí crusade. They
couldnít do very much, because of their nonfunctional economy.
These new fellows with their slightly different variation on the
gnostic, revolutionary theme have a lot more to work with, if we
allow them to. They could do a lot of harm.
Cold War is over. We may forget about the hunt for Red October.
The hunt for the Red Conservatives is just beginning.
Readers who find the religious-political connections discussed here
doubtful, may wish to look at two essays by the late Murray N. Rothbard:
"Karl Marx: Communist as Religious Eschatologist," in
Yuri Maltsev, ed., Requiem
for Marx (Auburn: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1993), pp.
221-294, and "Origins
of the Welfare State in America," Journal of Libertarian
Studies, 12, 1 (Fall 1996), pp. 193-229.
Joseph R. Stromberg [send him
mail] is the JoAnn B. Rothbard Historian in Residence at the
Ludwig von Mises Institute and
a columnist for Antiwar.com.
© 2001 LewRockwell.com