The coming defeat of neoconservatism

Here are some further thoughts about how our present Wilsonian ideology may, though its own disasters, lead us back to a more sane approach.

Yesterday I posted an exchange with a correspondent, whose ideas I summed up as follows:

The neoconservatives’ strategy for universal democracy, which traditionalists fear and oppose, is actually releasing the true depths of Moslem aggression against us, an event that will invalidate the neocon dream of universal democracy, awaken the West to the true clash of civilizations (which neither the Wilsonian neocons nor the isolationist paleocons want us to see), and thus bring our civilization back to its senses and save the West.

Commenting on that exchange, another correspondent wrote:

“Democracy requires liberating all … political forces in a nation. Therefore imposing democracy when evil forces are strong is not desirable. One must drain the swamp before one can build on it.”

Here is my reply:

Very well said. This adds a wrinkle I had not thought of. I was thinking along the lines that our campaign (or at least our rhetoric) to democratize the Moslem world via the “war on terror” is making the Moslems, by reaction, even more aggressive against us. But in fact it is democracy itself that is unleashing Moslem aggression, first, in the local sense, in Iraq, where we invited all or most of the political and religious forces in the nation to express themselves and even allowed them to arm themselves, and second, in the global sense, via open borders and the equal right of all persons and all cultures to express themselves. So, if you’re going to have “democracy,” whether locally or globally, you’ve first got to be sure that the prospective members of this democracy are suited for it. Just as a tribal Moslem country is not ready for democracy on the national level, a world that contains a billion Moslems is not ready for democracy on the global level.

The same problems were discussed by Eric Voegelin in the first chapter of The New Science of Politics, published in 1952. Apparently speaking of postwar decolonialization but perhaps of other “democratization” endeavors as well, he writes:

“Our own foreign policy was a factor in aggravating international disorder through its sincere but naive endeavor of curing the evils of the world by spreading representative institutions in the elemental sense to areas where the existential conditions for their functioning were not given. Such provincialism, persistent in the face of its consequences, is in itself an interesting problem for the scientist.”

In other words, we impose representative government on countries which lack the conditions for it, namely the articulation of the individual as a representative unit. What makes the individual a representative unit is that he is, and is seen as, a potential knower of truth, or, as Voegelin put it, a sensorium of transcendence. These conditions do not obtain in Moslem countries such as Iraq, which are articulated in terms of clan, tribe, and mosque, not in terms of the individual. Therefore attempting to impose democracy on such countries will only succeed in liberating their clanish and tribal and religious passions, to the ruin of the country. A fortiori, spreading “global democracy” may only succeed in unleashing the evil forces of Islamism on the world as a whole. The silver lining of this disaster is that it may (we hope) discredit the ideology of democratic universalism and lead to a re-awakening of the West to its own historic identity vis à vis the non-West.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 27, 2004 01:05 PM | Send

I believe it is Bush’s (and the neocons) position that we can no longer safely leave the Arab Middle East sunk in its medieval stupor. Of course, they are smart enough to know that this is not fertile ground for Madisonian constitutional democracy, to say the least. Al Qaeda hoped to drive all Western influence from the region and take over governments, some of which have huge oil wealth. They had already taken over the Afghan government. Our invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq was to preclude that possibility, and in the case of Iraq, show local governments that they could not dabble in surreptitious terrorism or support of terrorism without risk of being removed from power. All this needed to be accomplished under cover of high idealism, hence the idiotic Wilsonian rhetoric. In fact, I believe this administration will be glad to put something in place and gradually withdraw without accomplishing the conversion of local savages into Jeffersons, Washingtons, Hamiltons, etc. Even if what is put in isn’t too impressive by our standards, the coming of modernism to the Middle East will ultimately devastate Islam, though it may take decades. The question is whether Bush is right that “leaving well enough alone” is in the aftermath of 9/11 no longer responsible. He may be right, even though the consequences of his present course of action are incalculable.

Posted by: thucydides on April 27, 2004 6:49 PM

If one looks here : at various Iraqis at the funerals of their terrorist relatives, one can see how childlike is their reaction and their personality. For how can one urge on family members to rise up against the U.S., the most powerful country in the world, and not expect the expected, viz. death. So here is another reason why democracy in Iraq is a non-starter: the incredible immaturity of the people.

Posted by: Gracián on April 28, 2004 2:00 AM

I just see photos of people mourning at a funeral. I don’t see the incredible immaturity that Gracian sees.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on April 28, 2004 2:15 AM

Yes, Arabs weep at funerals, señor Gracián. So do Spaniards. Not everyone belongs to the Anglican Communion.

Posted by: Reg Cæsar on April 28, 2004 5:15 AM

Mr. Auster plucks another gem from the past (Eric Vogelin’s writing in 1952) that I was not aware of. It really makes one think about just how “smart” our present course (“democratization of the Middle East”) is. However, I do not see it as “democratization” as much as a coming together of adversaries, something I thought I would never see.

So much is happening on the worldwide political scene, with bombings here and heads of state dashing around there (mostly to Washington), that I have to wonder if we and the world are not in a kind of “no man’s land”, a period of history between “the past” (which the Middle East seems to have been mired in), and “the future”, which may be brighter than anyone ever expected.

What Vogelin wrote in ‘52 and what Mr. Auster writes now may “seem” like what is happening. But very possibly, something ELSE is happening on the world stage. I call it, for lack of a better term, “monumental change”, but not democratization. This “historic” change began, I believe, when Al Qaida began bombing its supportive states, Saudi Arabia and now, Syria. It may even have begun further back, with the apparently unprecendented cooperation between intelligence services of so many countries—France, Germany, Spain, The Phillipines, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Portugal, Britain—in thwarting Al Qaida plots in their countries and in other countries. I still can’t believe there was so much “sharing” of info and cooperation between some very unfriendly countries.

More incredible was Khaddafy’s offer to offer to “trash” his nuclear and chemical and biological weapons program and open up his country to the West (I predict Gen. Khaddafy will be one day soon giving a speech on the House floor!). As incredible as that is, so is Al Qaida’s bombing in Syria, Algeria and Saudi Arabia, its home (I haven’t heard from Yemen lately, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they too were cooperating secretly with the U.S. and Coalition). With Syria now pledging to fight alongside the U.S. against terror (I’ll believe that when I see it), and with the Saudis evidently providing our jets their airfields and other support, I see this “monumental change” spreading to the point where only N. Korea will be left as a renegade state. Unfortunately, two major problems facing the world and Middle East do not directly involve Al Qaida—Iran’s nuclear program (which Israel is now threatening to attack) and N. Korea’s nuke program (which no one can seem to do much about). I wonder if this “monumental change” I see is really just a pipe dream.

Posted by: David Levin on April 28, 2004 9:12 AM

Perhaps I am ignorant about G.W. Bush, but it’s hard to believe that he is engaging in a Wilsonian strategy to bring democracy to the Middle East. If he were concerned with democracy, why isn’t he pressuring the House of Saud to give up control of Arabia?

It remains a possibility that he is engaging in a pragmatic strategy to build up a U.S. military presence in the Middle East, which would keep the Chinese and Pakistanis away from the world’s largest oil supply. China is growing fast and they are getting thirsty for oil. It makes one wonder if this campaign is about democracy or about keeping our friendly Kleptocrats in place (read: Saudi Arabia) to keep selling us cheap fuel. Our biggest “friends” over there seem to be dictators, not democrats. (Just my 2 cents)

Posted by: Mark on April 28, 2004 10:20 AM

>With Syria now pledging to fight alongside the U.S. against terror (I’ll believe that when I see it),

Assad’s got a funny way of showing it.

The headline of this piece is “Al-Asad: Iraqis are right to resist”. The subhead is “Syrian President Bashar al-Asad has backed armed resistance operations against the US occupation forces in Iraq”. It doesn’t come as a surprise to me that he’s doing it. What comes as a surprise is that he feels confident enough to talk about it on television.

I believe it was on another thread here that Lawrence Auster pointed out the mistake of treating the Iraq war like a local conflict instead of a regional conflict.

Posted by: Ken Hechtman on April 28, 2004 4:35 PM

If Israel blows up the Iranian nuclear reactor, that would be extremely fortuitous.
It would save us a whole lot of trouble.
Of course, publicly Bush would probably have to express shock and dismay at Israel’s “unprovoked aggression,” but in private we could pat Sharon on the back.
In any case, it would be a win-win situation.

Posted by: Michael Jose on April 28, 2004 5:18 PM
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