• Wilsonism: Impractical Pragmatics

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    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

    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.

    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

    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.

    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

    23, 2006

    M. Ryan [send him mail]
    is a Canadian with a well-known habit of blundering into fields
    for which he is inadequately prepared. He is currently working on
    a book on Objectivism. Visit his

    M. Ryan Archives

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