Gelernter Goes Galactic
I’ve said before that Bush’s democratist rhetoric, though it sounds like old-fashioned natural-rights liberalism, is really not natural-rights liberalism at all, but has instead passed over to something like openness liberalism, an unqualified grant of “democracy” to everyone in the world, with us as the grantor—or, rather, with us as the prophet and agent of the Grantor. Now David Gelernter is trying to construct this specious Bushite ideology into nothing less than a new American religion.
Writing in the January Commentary, Gelernter redefines Americanism as no longer merely a civic religion, but (I kid you not) as a “Judeo-Christian religion.” You heard right: he defines Americanism as a “Judeo-Christian religion.” The central tenet of this “religion” is that every person in the world is “entitled” to “democracy, freedom and equality,” because “freedom comes from God.” While this language has some resemblances to the language of America’s right-liberal political tradition, it is in fact antithetical to it. The American tradition says that man has a form or nature that comes from God, and that from this nature man derives certain unalienable rights. Those rights are all negative rights: the right not to be deprived of one’s life, one’s liberty, one’s property and one’s ability to pursue one’s happiness, as well as the right of a political community not to be deprived of self-government. But now the neocons have changed this carefully defined and delimited notion of the rights of man into an unqualified and limitless “freedom” bestowed by God on each person. They are saying that every person on earth is “entitled” to democracy and equality. What the neocons mean by this “entitlement” lingo, which conservatives of all stripes used to shun as part of a leftist, socialist agenda, is that all humans on earth—just as they are, with no demonstrated commitment to these principles on their part and no demonstrated capacity to realize them in practice—have a positive right to democracy and equality, and that it’s our God-given mission to give it to them.
The former neoconservative ideology (I’m almost tempted to call it “classic” neoconservatism), though dangerously abstract and universalist, was still recognizably a part of America’s mainstream political tradition. But, if Gelernter’s article in Commentary is any guide, the neocons are passing beyond neoconservatism, and beyond any recognizable American perspective, to something strange, alien, and repellant. In recent years, as I’ve argued previously, they had steadily abandoned what used to be the defining principles of neoconservatism, namely individual rights as opposed to group-rights (as shown particularly in their quiescence over the Grutter decision) and bourgeois morality as opposed to cultural liberationism (as shown by various neocon writings embracing the cultural revolution). And now this process seems to have reached its culmination. Unhinged as they are from any normative or historical American framework, yet needing some high-fallutin’ way to justify Bush’s global democratist crusade, they are trying to invent some wholly new American ideology, excuse me, some wholly new American religion, founded on gaseous slogans that sound more like the “Federation Prime Directive” blather in a Star Trek episode than like anything in the American political tradition.