October 15, 2007
I have written in the past about Neoconservatism, especially the doctrine that we can democratize the world. This is not only, or even primarily, a military conflict. The use of force is like weeding a garden, removing petty tyrants so that democracy may flourish. The real power of Neoconservatism is cultural. America, the City on a Hill, is a beacon of hope that shines the light of freedom and prosperity around the world, urging all nations to follow us in the march toward liberty.
We are now engaged in an ideological conflict against Islamofascism. But just as we defeated communism, we shall be triumphant here as well, not only because of our military superiority, but because of the greatness of the ideology which we embody. The tyranny of the Jihadist’s mosque cannot compete with the greatness of American Gladiators.
Don’t believe me? Well, consider this. After decades of Cold War, American Gladiators debuted in September of 1989. In November of 1989, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. By December of 1991, The USSR itself was no more. The Battle for the Hearts and Minds was fought – and won – with foam jousting batons.
And now the show is coming back! It will be aired mid-season on NBC, hosted by no less illustrious a figure than Hulk Hogan! In the face of such resplendent, all-American Awesome.
So let us continue to oppose petty tyrants. Let us continue to weed this world of tin-pot dictators who abuse and enslave their own people. Let us stand up against evil ideologies.
And let us watch American Gladiators, let the world watch, and see why the West will win.
October 5, 2007
In March of 2006, I was doing some research and discovered an interesting article about global standards on abortion. I was astonished to discover just how liberal America’s abortion laws are, even compared to nations like Britain, Germany, Sweden, and other parts of post-Christian Europe.
A look at access to abortion around the globe:
EUROPE:Most European countries have legalized abortion, with limits. A representative sampling:
Britain: Available with limits until the 24th week, after that if the pregnancy threatens the women’s life, may cause grave permanent injury to her physical or mental health or if there is a substantial risk that the baby will be seriously handicapped.
Germany: Available in the first 12 weeks if the woman is in a “state of distress” and undergoes counseling.
Spain: Legalized in 1985, available in cases of rape, fetal deformation or risk to the mother’s mental or physical health.
Sweden: Legalized in 1975 and available on demand until the 18th week; after that social authorities must give permission.
Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea and Mali: Recognize grounds for abortion as saving a woman’s life and protecting her health in cases of rape, incest and fetal impairment, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.
South Africa: Legal since 1997 on demand in first 12 weeks; from week 13-20 available if a doctor advises and after that only if there is a risk to the woman or fetus.
China: Legal and common, as government birth control rules limit most urban couples to one child and most rural couples to two. Local officials accused of coercing abortions. Legal ban in place on aborting a fetus because of its sex.
India: Legalized in 1971 and viewed as a way to curb population growth, although access is limited. Prenatal sex determination tests illegal.
Indonesia: Illegal in world’s most populous Muslim nation except when the mother or fetus have severe health problems.
Japan: Widely available since 1948; allowed before the 22nd week if mother’s health is at risk from physical or economic factors or if mother was raped or otherwise incapacitated at time of conception.
Philippines: Illegal in predominantly Roman Catholic country.
LATIN AMERICA: In predominantly Roman Catholic Latin America, abortion is usually illegal, although many countries make exceptions for when the mother’s life is at risk. An exception is Cuba, where abortion is legal, widespread and free through universal health system for women over 18. There were 52.5 abortions for every 100 births in 2004, according to Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health.
MIDDLE EAST: Abortion is banned in Middle East nations from Morocco to Iran, in line with Islamic Shariah law, which strictly forbids the practice — though most allow it if the mother’s life is endangered. The sole exception is Tunisia, where abortion is allowed on demand during the first trimester. In Egypt, it is allowed before 120 days if doctor specifies reasons requiring it.
Sociologist Peter Berger famously stated that if Indians are the most religious people in the world, and Swedes the least, then America is a nation of Indians governed by Swedes. But when it comes to protecting the lives of the unborn, even Swedes would think that America is a little out there.
According to How I Met Your Mother, a Slap Bet is:
A bet between two parties in which the winner gets to slap the loser. In the event that a slap is administered in error, the slapee shall receive a specified number of extra slaps, as deemed by a pre-appointed third party. (“Slap Bet Commissioner”)
Though this brief summary doesn’t go into detail, there is an interesting wrinkle in the administration of the Slap Bet. The loser of the Slap Bet is given a choice between (a) 10 slaps to be administered all at once, or (b) 5 slaps redeemable anytime, anywhere, throughout eternity.
Which to choose? The immediacy or the uncertainty? The greater pain for which one can prepare, or the lesser pain that takes one unawares? It is a dilemma of Gordian proportions, rivaled only by such controversies as “In a fight between astronauts and cavemen, who would win?”
Barney “Swarley” Stinson chose option (b), 5 slaps administered anytime, anywhere. This spared him immediate pain, but causes him to now live in constant terror, waiting for the next time that Marshall will claim a piece of his prize.
Well, ladies and gentlemen…
. . .
I could try to spin this into a discussion about how it is better to deal with problems head on as they arise, instead of trying to put off problems until they can be put off no longer. But really, all I want to say is:
Watch How I Met Your Mother on CBS every Monday night at 8/7 central!
Human choices are pre-determined. By this, I mean that they are functionally constrained, but not that they are externally imposed. We are never zombies whose bodies are compelled to action by a force external to ourselves. We make free moral choices, and are responsible for them. These choices are determined by our own Will, but that Will is shaped by our created Nature and our environmental Nurture.
The Self-Determinination Of Choice
These free moral choices are pre-determined, but they are determined by who we are. I will make the choices that I will make, based on an infinitely complex combination of internal and external factors.
Imagine that I freeze a single moment in time and replicate an infinite number of copies of the universe. In each of them, absolutely nothing has changed. I am confronted with exactly the same scenario, at exactly the same time. My body and soul are the same in each universe. Nothing is different.
In such a situation, with an infinite set of identical universes, I would make the same choice in each.
Keep in mind that I am the same. If I do not change, but my choice does, then my choices are independent of my self, and are not contingent on who I am. This hardly seems like a “Free Will” position to me. If choice is not determined by the self, that seems more Random than Free. If anything, self-determinism is the only position that provides a robust sense of Will that is not externally imposed either by mechanistic forces or by inexplicable random chance.
Though I could choose otherwise, I would never do so. Choices are thus pre-determined, but are not externally imposed. Choices are totally self-determined by my Will.
The Origin of the Will
So we have “Free Will” in the sense that our Will is free to choose whatever it wants. These choices are only constrained by ourselves. However, it is important to note that the “self” that does the choosing is shaped and formed by external forces.
The Will — the mechanism by which we choose — is not autonomous. It is not self-originating. It is created by God, and shaped by His Spirit and His world. We are inescabably contingent beings. We do not — cannot — create ourselves ex nihilo.
This is not to say that we are a product of our environment. It is absolutely true that there each individual has an innate, immaterial soul that precedes external developmental stimuli. Indeed, Nature probably plays a larger role than Nurture in the development of the Will.
But the Nature itself is not self-originated. As created, contingent beings, our souls, our wills, those faculties which desire and choose, are set in motion by an infinitely powerful and infinitely personal God. We do not self-originate. We do not choose who we are, as our identity precedes our choosing. At the most basic level, “Who I Am” is a function of who I was created to be.
Physical Freedom as an Analogy for Moral Freedom
To draw an analogy, man is physically free when he is free from external physical restraints. If I am handcuffed, shackled, or blindfolded, I am not “free.” In these situations, there is an external force which limits my natural capabilities.
However, even free from external limitations there are limits to my physical power. I cannot bench press 500 pounds. I cannot leap tall buildings with a single bound. I am not, sadly, faster than a speeding bullet. Some are stronger than others. Some are athletes, while others are crippled. But all people have physical limitations which are not externally imposed.
These limitations are not restrictions on man’s physical freedom. They do not (as in the case of handcuffs) externally impose artificial limitations on his physical capabilities. Being unable to move and object due to external restraint is a restriction of physical freedom; being unable to move the same object because I am too weak is not.
Similarly, being unable to choose an object due to external restraint is a restriction of moral freedom; being unable to choose the same object because it is not in my nature to do so is not.
Human Will and the Divine
The Wills of God and Man are Free, in that they are constrained only by the self. The key distinction between the Will of God and the Will of Man is that God’s self is self-originated, while ours is contingent.
God’s will is constrained by His character. He could do anything, but He would never contradict His own nature. God would never act unjustly, for example. This does not mean that His will is somehow not free, for the only constraint on His Will is Himself. God is free to do whatever He wants, but what He wants is limited by who He is.
Similarly, man’s will is constrained by his character. We could choose anything within our physical power, but we would only choose those things which are consistent our nature at that particular moment in time. (Unlike God, man has a changing, dynamic character, which makes our choices more unpredictable, but no less self-limited.) Again, this does not mean that our choices are not free, for the only constraint on our choice is internal. We are free to do anything that we want (within our physical power), but what we want is determined by who we are.
The difference lies not in the nature of choice, but in those factors that shape the Will.
Because God is wholly self-originating, His Will is entirely self-determined. God is completely autonomous, and His will precedes any external factors.
In contrast, man is not self-originating. Though (like God) our choices are determined by our Will, our will is not ultimately self-determined. Man is contingent, and our Will is a product of external factors, including our own Nature (created by God, and not by ourselves), and through our interaction with external stimuli.
The Problem of “Free Will”
The biggest problem that I have with so-called “free will” is that it seems logically incoherent to me.
I cannot comprehend any freedom other than self-determination, which is a concept that I affirm whole-heartedly. I literally do not know what “free will” means if not, “I am free from external constraint, and will make choices in accordance with my created nature as shaped through my interaction with my environment.”
What is free will, if not the freedom to make choices in accordance with who I am? And if my choices are not determined by my self, what has the doctrine of Free Will become, but random chance? How can the Will of man be more free than the Will of God?
But the contingency of the “self” is, I think, inescapable. Man is not God. We do not self-originate. And we do not create ourselves ex nihilo.
That’s already been done.
October 1, 2007
I really do just think about random words quite often. How they sound, how they feel, how they taste. There is an aesthetic quality to words the is lost in the monotony and utility of human speech.
Words. So powerful that they can stir men to the greatest acts of heroism or the basest acts of barbarism. Our gatekeepers to Truth; our Guardians against lies. The vessel of lies, the obscurers of truth. Words, those most dynamic and powerful of tools. Those most delightful, most damning of ideas. So dangerous that God scattered our language, lest we be as one and confront Him as gods. So wonderful that Christ Himself is called The Word of God, and it was by His Word that there was light to first illuminate the souls of men.
And we use them to ask our brother to pass the salt.
And what do I have to say about words today? Nothing that justifies that introduction, I’m afraid. I am consistently frustrated by my inability to use words effectively. I’ll sit for hours and write about global geopolitics, only to realize that my writing is laborious to the point of incoherence. What can be done? Perhaps if I can only get back to the building blocks, and try to understand how sounds are formed.
And on that note, the real reason I am writing this post:
One day, sitting at my desk at work, I discovered that you can put almost any vowel sound between the “l” and “ck” sounds, and come up with a word:
The only exceptions that I can think of are leck and loke. Those are not words… yet.
Last week, I blogged about the Neoconservative principles behind the Bush Administration’s War on Terror. Specifically, I looked at Neoconservatism as a way of looking at history, and briefly touched on the role that this historiography may play in Bush’s eternal optimism. In this follow-up post, I’d like to delve into Neoconservatism in greater detail, examining what it mean, why it makes sense, and how it works in the real world.
The October 2007 issue of Commentary Magazine examines the nature and ascendency of Neoconservatism in greater detail. Though the whole article is well worth reading, it is rather long. In particular, though, I think it would be useful to reference their definition of neoconservatism in order to have a more robust understanding of what exactly it entails. The author outlines four basic traits of neoconservative foreign policy; which are as follows:
What Neoconservatives Believe
- Neoconservatives are idealistic moralists. They do not subscribe to the doctrine of Realism. They don’t want to create a “balance of power” by reaching compromise with oppressive regimes. They want to bring down communism (Reagan’s “Evil Empire”) an the totalitarianism of rogue nations (Bush’s “Axis of Evil”). They believe that America has a moral obligation to confront tyranny. They believe that the United States is locked in a battle between Good and Evil, and understand foreign policy as a part of this global ideological struggle.
- Neoconservatives are internationalists. They tend to favor international cooperation wherever possible, whether through NATO, the UN, or some other international organization. More broadly, they recognize that the events of one nation or region are not isolated to that nation or region, and that freedom and tyranny tend to spill over into surrounding regions. Thus, they reject isolationism and seek to proactively confront threats abroad, rather than waiting for them to gather insurmountable strength.
- Neoconservatives are hawkish. They believe that military action is often necessary to break down repressive regimes that suppress ideological transformation.
- Neoconservatives are democratic apologists. That is to say, they see the ideas of Freedom and Democracy as inextricably linked. They do not support benevolent dictatorships, but want to establish real self-governance around the world, because Democracy is the only real guardian of Freedom, and the only really moral form of government.
These four basic principles of Neoconservative foreign policy are unmistakably the guiding forces behind Bush’s foreign policy, and his vision for a democratic Middle East. Since September 12th, 2001, President Bush has argued that the United States is locked in an epic struggle against an evil ideology that despises freedom, that we must work proactively to defeat this ideology internationally, that we must do so through our military might, and that we will achieve long-term victory through the Democratization of the Middle East. In President Bush’s vision, the hearts of men and women yearn to be free, and the good ol’ US of A must throw off the tyrannies that prevent their freedom so that they may join the ranks of Democratic nations and promote global peace, stability, and prosperity.
Why Neoconservatism Makes Sense
- This is a moral struggle, and we are on the side of the Good. America is not perfectly Good, and our enemies are not perfectly Evil. But the fight against Communism was a moral struggle against a truly Evil Empire, who trampled on human rights and murdered countless millions. The fight against Islamo-Fascist Terrorism is a moral battle as well. Saddam Huessein was a ruthless and immoral man. The Taliban was a tyrannical, brutally repressive government. We ought not stand aside and allow their ideology to fester.
- This is an unavoidable global conflict, whether we recognize that or not. Islamo-Fascist Terrorists attacked the United States in New York in 1993, in Saudi Arabia in 1996, in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, and in Yemen in 2000, all before the September 11th attacks. We cannot pretend that we will be left alone if only we keep a low profile. The strength of Islamo-Fascism in one nation threatens to spill over into others. And the establishment of Freedom can open the people’s eyes to an alternative. This is first and foremost an ideological battle, and it is one which must be waged globally if we hope to succeed.
- Military force is often necessary to remove tyrants. Creating a popular demand for democracy does little good if the people are precluded from self-rule by violent dictators. The global spread of freedom necessitates the overthrow of brutal dictators, even through military power. The people of Afghanistan could not be free as long as they were held under the boot of the Taliban. The military power of the United States, working with NATO allies, enabled them to pursue freedom. An entire nation held hostage was delivered.
- Democracy is the best way to preserve freedom and human rights. We may attempt to establish puppet leaders and benevolent, pro-US dictators, but this is often times not really a moral improvement. If the goal is to promote the global recognition of human rights, then we must move being the strategic interests of Realpolitik and strive to offer people a real chance at self-governance.
Neoconservatism represents truly noble goals, and attempts to deal head-on with some very real problems. But is it a tenable solution? Policy, and especially foreign policy, is not really very abstract. Ideas are tested in the Embassies and on the battlefields, and not ultimately in the classrooms or journals of academia. So to really grasp the strength or weakness of Neoconservatism, we need to analyze its basic tenets in light of reality.
Why Neoconservatism Might Just Work
- Freedom is more attractive than tyrrany.
Those who oppose the United States do so with rabid ideological fervor, but they have little to offer the average person on the street. If given the choice between the tyranny of sharia law and the freedom of Western-style democracy, few would choose the former. If this really is an ideological struggle, we are on the winning side.
The transformation of the Anbar province of Iraq is a good example of this. Though once an extremely hostile and violent place, Anbar has become a major success story in the War in Iraq. The common people have turned against the Al Qaeda-in-Iraq insurgency, cooperating with the United States and working toward a Democratic future. Many have scoffed at the idea that the United States can claim credit for the progress in Anbar, since it is the result of a change in the hearts and minds of the local people. But really, isn’t that the point? The transformation of Anbar shows the universal appeal of Democratic freedoms, and shows what can happen once a people reject tyranny.
- The Domino Effect Cuts Both Ways.
Abhorrent ideologies like Communism and Islamo-Fascism may spread regionally, but freedom can do so as well. Success in one region provides an example and a model for those in surrounding areas, and creates and intellectual basis for future transformations.
Early signs after the invasion of Iraq were very promising. The high level of voter turnout within Iraq itself was amazing. More interesting, Democratic progress in Iraq led to local elections in other nations in the region, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The Democratic progress in Iraq created a demand for increased democratic representation among the people throughout the region. A successful democracy in Iraq would be a “City on a Hill” that exposed the tyranny of its neighbors, increasing the people’s desire for liberty and spreading the ideological seeds of Democratization throughout the Middle East.
- Ideological and Military Progress Go Hand-In-Hand.
- Democracy Really Does Work.
It seems as if the Iraqi people are committed to a national, democratic government. Though there are a number of political benchmarks to be met, the people themselves have overwhelmingly participated in national elections, and almost universally oppose partitioning the country into Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish territories. This is especially interesting given the amount of sectarian violence. The people’s commitment to national unity belies the sectarian killings, and gives credence to the argument that a violent minority is exerting power against the wishes of a more peaceful democratic majority.
Unfortunately, the Democratic gains in Iraq have not continued to flourish, or if they have they have been overshadowed by dramatic military losses. Sectarian violence has cast a shadow over many parts of the nation. The insurgent forces have waged an effective war against coalition troops, and sectarian violence has threatened to rip Iraq’s fledgling national government to pieces. This has outstripped the people’s desire for stable, democratic government.
The ideological conflict is really the key to winning the military conflict here. If the people reject extremism and embrace national harmony, and if we have the troop presence to support them, we can stamp out the conflict. The power of the insurgency is in their ability to recruit from disaffected Iraqis, and to strike and then retreat to friendly shelters. If Iraqi people become less disaffected, and if the friendly shelters evaporate, the insurgency will dwindle and die. Commentary Magazine puts it this way:
What is apparent is that most Iraqis want democracy, but their wishes are hostage to a sizable minority of violent recalcitrants, backed by outside force.
This is where the success of Anbar may be encouraging. When the democratic majority turned against the violent minority and assisted the United States in rooting them out, they came to enjoy a far greater measure of peace and stability. This may serve as a model to other regions in Iraq.
The troop surge shows signs of progress. Allocating more troops, and embedding them within Iraqi neighborhoods, has decreased U.S. deaths and diminished sectarian violence. If we do not cut our losses and run away, we may yet stem the violence long enough to see the people of Iraq re-assert their desire for peaceful, stable democracy.
Success in Iraq, and in the global War on Terror, is far from certain. The Neoconservative vision of regional transformation may be irreparably damaged by the success of Islamo-fascist terrorism. Our ideological strengths may be obscured by military defeat, as in Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War. This is a generational struggle, and there will surely be many failures along the way, even if success is eventually attained.
But those claim that the War on Terror is nothing more than a bumper sticker, or say that Islamo-fascist terrorism should be treated as a simple police action, are missing the bigger picture. At its core, this is an ideological struggle between Freedom and Tyranny. It is a moral battle between Good and Evil. It is a battle worth fighting, and one which the enemies of Freedom will continue to fight whether we oppose them or not. We must use our military might to defend our own Freedoms and to extend those same Freedoms to those who are kept enslaved by petty tyrants and repressive ideologies.
The triumph of Good is not assured, but the greatest weapon in our favor is the natural thirst for liberty etched into the heart of each man and woman, if only we can fight to give them the chance to be free.
September 28, 2007
I’ve been involved with speech and debate for a long time, and over the years one learns a little bit about the flow of language. It’s not anything I’ve ever really studied or thought consciously about. Over time, one simply learns what works and what doesn’t.
The tone of prosaic speechmaking is very different than the exultant imagery of poetry or the rhythmic rhymes of hip hop, but there is still an amazing degree of nuance, of subconscious expression, that hides behind the words that we choose, the language that we use to breathe meaning into our methodical, asinine arguments. Some words are fun to say, and fun to listen to, and the trick lies in finding those words, those phrases, which express the substance without sacrificing style, so that the words are not mere vessels for communicating ideas, but are decadently decorated, flowing together so well that the argument itself is passively persuasive.
There are some pretty simple tricks to this. Rhyming is fine, some of the time. Alliteration works wonders. Using rhetorical couplets and trios can be both useful and pretty; they grab the attention, misdirect the focus, and beautify the speech. Establishing a pattern and flow to speech increases the likelihood that the listener will have a generally positive impression, but decreases rational comprehension in order to do this. It can be very effective to vary one’s pace, veering off course to break the ice.
“We must never stand down! We must never surrender! We must never stop fighting! Act now.”
The dramatic effect of the repetitive rhetorical trio only heightens the impact of the culminating statement, which is unique in its structure, in its length, in its grammar (1st person plural declarative to 2nd person command), and should be verbally delivered at a different tone, speed, and volume, and possibly even separated by a short pause.
All of that to say, I often find myself walking down the street, mulling over catchy turns of phrase, and thinking about which words roll trippingly off the tongue. I suppose it’s a weird, nerdy habit, but I’m a rhetorician. It’s what I do.And today I decided that “co” words are fun, especially if they have a hard vowel (like “p”) along for the ride. “-ate” and “-ing” words are great when used in conjunction with like words, because they pseudo-rhyme without any real difficulty. (Mental note: rap would’ve been way easy in Ancient Rome.) And words that are archaic enough to be unusual, but not so much that they are unfamiliar, are great. Especially old violent words, for some reason. They become silly.
Here are some cool words:
September 27, 2007
I’ve recently finished Alan Moore’s classic graphic novel, The Watchmen.
The book raises a lot of very interesting questions about the nature of evil, utilitarian calculations for the sake of the Greater Good, the role of reason and emotion in moral determinations, and the question of determinism vs. free will. At the end of the book, the reader is as unsure as the characters themselves whether The Right Thing was done. It is a powerful, challenging, stunningly well-written exploration of some important themes, full of glaring insights on human nature.
I think it will merit further discussion and analysis…
September 26, 2007
… with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in . . . to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations. ~ Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1865.
The Rise (and Fall?) of Neo-Conservativism
President Bush campaigned in 2000 as an isolationist, who did not believe that it was the U.S. responsibility to be global peacekeepers or policemen. After 9/11, however, all of that changed. Since that fateful day, the U.S. has pursued an aggressive foreign policy, not only defending our economic and security interests, but actively seeking to institute democratic regimes around the world, beginning in the Middle East, with Iraq. This belief – that the projection of U.S. Power can promote global stability by planting the seeds of Democracy in foreign soil – is the doctrine of Neo-Conservativism. To quote Bush’s 2nd Inaugural:
The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world. ~ President George W. Bush, January 20, 2005.
From 2002-2004, it seemed as if the Neo-Conservatives ruled Washington D.C. Their idea of promoting Democracy through the military might of the United States was the guiding force of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy. Their ideas predated the Bush Administration, but after 9/11 their promise of global peace through universal democracy and freedom seemed to be the answer to the most pressing questions facing America. A global rebirth of freedom would, they argued, promote the security interests of the United States! After years of supporting tin-pot dictators in defense of national security, here at least we could unite our ideological commitments with our pragmatic concerns! As President Bush said in his Second Inaugural, “America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one.”
The American people stood firmly behind it as long as it looked like it would be successful. For all the talk of “values voters” deciding the election, it’s worth noting that Bush made gains over his 2000 numbers in virtually every single demographic group. While so-called “values voters” were important, most non-evangelical voters supported Bush in greater numbers than they had in 2004, because they stood behind their wartime President.
However, as the war has dragged on and more Americans have died overseas, the people of these United States have lost their stomach for the conflict. As an intellectual force, Neo-Conservativism is out of fashion. But it still reverberates within the halls of the West Wing, and Bush’s policies and attitudes toward the War in Iraq reflect this still today.
In the face of plummeting public support for the War in Iraq, the Bush Administration has stayed the course, seemingly inflexible, unchanging, and unwilling to learn from their mistakes. Bush seems unflappably optimistic, convinced that temporary set-backs will not forestall eventual U.S. victory and the democratic transformation of the Middle East. Many consider this a mark of stupidity. In reality, this optimistic outlook makes perfect sense within a Neo-Conservative intellectual framework.
In short, President Bush and his Neo-Conservative advisors are confident that we will win, because we are right.
The (Inexorable?) End of History
It is impossible to understand Neo-Conservative doctrine without doing so in light of the post-Cold War environment. Many leading NeoCon thinkers and officials were movers and shakers during the West’s prolonged conflict with the U.S.S.R., and their ideas were formed against that historical backdrop.
This historical perspective is really crucial because Neo-Conservativism depends on a certain linear view of history. In the minds of Neo-Conservativism, history is not a random series of events, the conjunction of this person and that in a particular time and place, write large over millennia. Rather, Neo-Conservatives tend to hold to a more Hegelian dialectic view, that history has a story, a purposefulness, an “end.” (That is, a telos, not a literal termination point.)
Probably the best example of this view is Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 book, The End Of History, And The Last Man. In it, he maintains that the 20th century was a grand ideological battlefield, on which political systems were developed, tested, and discarded. Monarchy, Facism, Totalitarianism, Communism, and Democracy have all had their day in the sun. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Fukuyama argues, the verdict is definitively in: Liberal Democracy wins. The ideas that individuals have certain inalienable rights, that governments exist for the people, and that the state should derive its power from the consent of the governed, is Fukuyama’s “End of History”.
This perspective leads to a couple of implications:
First, President Bush understands the battle with Islamo-facism as an ideological conflict, rather than a merely military action. Success doesn’t come through killing our enemies or conquering their lands. Success in this conflict through conquering their hearts and minds. The War in Iraq isn’t about beating the insurgents physically. It’s about discrediting their system of thought in the eyes of the Iraqi people, and providing enough stability and security to allow the Iraqi people to establish self-governance based on freedom and human rights.
Second, President Bush believes that Democracy will – must – win this conflict. The success of Liberal Democracy is inevitable given human nature. It’s not necessarily that God is watching out to make sure that the Good Guys win. Rather, mankind naturally cries out for freedom, and given the ideological choice between the two, Freedom will always prevail. As President Bush said in his recent speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars:
The greatest weapon in the arsenal of democracy is the desire for liberty written into the human heart by our Creator. So long as we remain true to our ideals, we will defeat the extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will help those countries’ peoples stand up functioning democracies in the heart of the broader Middle East. And when that hard work is done and the critics of today recede from memory, the cause of freedom will be stronger, a vital region will be brighter, and the American people will be safer.
To Be Continued…
This provides the intellectual framework within which we should try to understand Bush’s foreign policy, especially the War in Iraq. But what are the strengths and weaknesses of this approach? And how is it working out in the real world? I will explore these more specific, practical question in greater depth soon.
September 24, 2007
We will do the undoable! We will think the unthinkable! We will consider the ineffable and see if we can’t eff it just a bit!
~ Douglas Adams, The Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
I have a little 4-year-old friend named Emma, and on Friday night I was playing with her outside of a coffee shop, drawing with magic markers, singing songs, and helping her to catch crickets. This girl is so active, so full of energy and life and enthusiasm and curiosity. She is happy to run around and explore new places, and to sit down and create new things. Watching her at play is mesmerizing and, in a way, humbling. To explore for the sake of exploring! To create without self-consciousness, simply for the joy of putting crayon to paper! Would that I had such a taste for the sweet marrow of life.
There is a child-like sense of curiosity, the desire to know, and to learn, and to explore new things, that is an essential human characteristic. They have an innate desire to create, to express the beauty around us and to find a place in this world for the visible and musical expressions of love and joy. Children know better than most that the world is unfathomably large, and that excites them! It’s as if life is a great game, with grand and glorious surprises around every corner. It’s a shame if we ever lose that bold curiosity (as I am sure I had for many years, only to slowly begin to reacquire it).
At the same time, children may be afraid of the unknown. One child will take risks (for he knows not that they are risks!) to explore something new. Another will tremble under his covers, afraid of the dark. Indeed, the same child may do both: one part curious, one part coward. These stand in direct opposition with one another. Curiosity seeks to conquer the unknown, while fear of darkness hides from it. In the one case, children populate the hidden corners of their universe with thrilling fantasies and glorious adventures; in the other case the closets and the spaces beneath their beds become the homes of monsters too horrible to name. The vastness of the world becomes a source of fear, and not of hope.
When confronted with the unknown, we may boldly go where no man has gone before, or we may withdraw into ourselves in fear. These responses are easy to identify in the hearts of children, but they are not absent in adults. We may settle into the mundane routine of life, or we can continue to pursue education for its own sake. We may seek out new experiences and strange companions, or we can shut out anything dangerous or unusual, holding to our bleak suburban lives. Our gut-level response to the unknown will determine a great deal about how we live our lives.
Will I explore the 100-acre wood? Or am I afraid of the dark?