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 way!?"
Wilsonism 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.
Wilsonism 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 representation?
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.
Traditionally, 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 own.
June 23, 2006