Neocons thrashing in their own coils

At the Phi Beta Cons blog at NRO, Carol Iannone expresses her astonishment at the Vanity Fair interview of the seven pro-war neocons who attacked President Bush’s Iraq policy (the interview was discussed by me here and here). Where, she asks, did the neocons get the idea that freedom is the universal desire of all mankind, and that this desire could be the basis for building a democracy in Iraq? At the Corner on November 11, Michael Rubin, one of the Magnificent Seven, replies disingenuously to Iannone. First he says he has nothing to do with the rest of the Magnificent Seven. Yeah, right, all seven of them just happened to agree at the same time to be interviewed by a left-liberal magazine for a sensational article on how prominent neocon war-supporters are turning against President Bush. Then Rubin accuses Iannone of portraying neocons as a sinister cabal. In fact she didn’t say anything about the neocons as political actors, she was talking about their ideas.

Isn’t it amazing, that when the neocons want to tout their accomplishments and influence, they blanket the conservative press with such triumphalist articles as “The Neoconservative Persuasion,” “The Neoconservative Moment,” and “The Neoconservative Convergence,” but when someone criticizes the neoconservative ideology, the neocons turn around and accuse the critic of inventing a neocon cabal or of using “neoconservative” as an anti-Jewish code word? (Of course, “neocon” has been frequently used as an anti-Jewish code word, but some neocons make no distinction between legitimate intellectual criticism and anti-Semitism.) In effect, when neoconservatism is attacked, the neocons claim that there is no such thing as neoconservatism. For the neocons, the word neoconservatism can only be used in a positive, celebratory sense. If you use it in a negative sense, you’re either a conspiracy theorist or an anti-Semite.

Andrew McCarthy, continuing to earn his credentials as the only intellectual adult at NRO, replies to Rubin, laying out the three false beliefs, disseminated by the neocons, that underlay the Iraq policy: that freedom is the universal desire of all mankind, that Muslims, given the chance, will choose democracy, and that democracy consists of elections and a constitution, regardless of whether a country actually has any substantive politics or culture that we would consider in conformity with democracy.

Michael Rubin again answers disingenuously, saying that of course he agrees that the implementation of the Iraq policy was bad. McCarthy reminds Rubin that the issue Iannone raised was not the implementation of the policy, but the false belief system that underlay the policy. As for that belief system, when challenged by McCarthy on the neocon idea that “freedom is the universal desire of all mankind,” Rubin, sounding like someone who just landed on planet earth yesterday, amazingly replies: “At the risk of debating a negative, what is your evidence to the contrary?”

These people are a menace! They should be expelled from participation in public life until they have undergone a total process of de-neoconification. And even then, they should probably be limited to handing out election fliers.

- end of initial entry -

James N. writes:

A marker for delusional thinking, of all types, is frothing at the mouth in response to the perfectly ordinary question “What is the evidence that what you say is true?”.

It is a distinctive feature of modernism, or liberalism if you will, that the “what is your evidence” question is offensive, or even out of bounds.

It’s the question that built the modern world, and to liberals it’s like the cross to a vampire.

LA replies:

First, Rubin’s asking for evidence that it is not true that all people desire freedom shows that he still believes that all people desire freedom—after all this time and all the vast evidence to the contrary that has been discussed at great length by conservatives, for example, the discovery that Muslims want not to live in freedom but to live under sharia law. Second, it shows that he has completely ignored the debate, that he is not even aware of the counter arguments against his position.

And this goes back to the start. Not knowing the most basic facts about Islam, the fact that Islam is incompatible with anything we would consider democracy, the fact that Muslim societies could only become democratic by ceasing to be Islamic, he supported the launching of a vast crusade to democratize the Muslim world. And now he asks innocently, “Where’s your evidence that Muslims don’t want democracy?”, showing that he has never thought about this subject himself, that he never thought about it beforehand, and that this whole discussion is new to him. And these are the people who think that they know enough to reconstruct the world. That is why I call them a menace.

His asking for evidence at this stage in the game is not an ordinary question, the sign of a person who is looking for the truth; it is the sign of an ideologue who will not accept any evidence that goes contrary to his ideology.

Arlene M. writes:

Regarding your discussion on Michael Rubin and his demand for “evidence” that all people don’t desire freedom; I’ve found when discussing this with most neocon-types that they seem to consider it a truth that is obvious: everybody not only wants freedom in the exact sense that we understand freedom, and everybody is likewise just as suited to democracy as we are, regardless of their particular history and culture.

It seems to be important to the neocon agenda for people to believe that freedom and democracy are the universal destiny of all humankind, and that we have to be the carriers of those things, and the guarantors of them to the whole world.

I have wondered whether this is just something they feel the need to believe, as with liberals. They believe what “feels good” to them, or whatever suits their ends, regardless of historical facts or empirical evidence. It might be that these people are simply products of bad modern education, because long ago when I went to school, it was simply Poly Sci 101 that “democracy” was something of a rarity in human history, requiring specific conditions to take root and flourish.

Even in my high school Current Events class, my teacher, a very liberal type, taught us that democracy required certain preconditions, among them a solid middle class, an educated electorate with widespread literacy, the rule of law, and a free press. I think this was pretty much the accepted thinking up until recent years. The evidence of history supports it; democracy in our sense has been rare in human experience. A real conservative would be enough of a realist to base his beliefs on solid reality, not on some utopian vision for what “ought to be.” This is more evidence that neocons, whatever they call themselves, are not truly of a conservative habit of mind.

And if freedom and democracy are subject to those preconditions that we were taught, then most if not all of the Islamic world would not qualify for democratic experiments. But of course as Condi Rice and the President told us, we are “racist” for not believing in the democratization of Iraq.

LA replies:

You have underscored something that has been an obsession for me; how something that was the common, established understanding among Americans has been lost or tossed away, and now the exact opposite of that wisdom is endlessly repeated as though it were the obvious truth, and even the possibility that it’s not the truth is not considered (as we can see that Rubin has never considered it until this moment). This is an extreme decline or deformation of understanding that has shocked me. Neoconservatism ten years ago was a serious problem, but it was not completely whacked out like this.

Yet, at the same time, the basic, crazy idea was there: all people can assimilate to America. That’s the root of it, and it is related to the idea that no discrimination can be allowed, because all discrimination is indivisible (as I discuss in my article, “Why Jews Welcome Moslems”). Then, with the post 2001 situation, the idea, all people can be assimilated into America, got expanded to: all people desire to be democrats. Once again, the universalism of the claim is connected with the idea that there must be no discrimination. To say that any particular people are not suited for democracy is an act of condescension and racism. All people are equally suited.

So, in the neocons’ mind, if they admit that not all people can be democrats, that’s tantamount to admitting that not all people can be assimilated into America, which is tantamount to admitting that America may be justified in not admitting every type of immigrant into America, which, in their minds is tantamount to admitting that the old discrimination against Jews may have been justified.

Normal people can see that there is a difference between how well Jews fit into the West and how well Muslims fit into the West. But in the minds of many Jews in general and neocons in particular, to admit that Muslims don’t fit into the West is to say that Jews don’t fit in either. Thus, in the neocons’ mind, to say that Muslims cannot be democratized is to say that Jews don’t fit into the West. And that is why they are so absolute and unthinking and unyielding in their democratism. Their democratism is not based on evidence. It is based on an instinctive (if distorted and incorrect and destructive) notion of Jewish self-protection.

I believe that’s where this ideological madness comes from.

Tom S. does a good job of capturing what’s wrong with National Review. He writes:

I agree with you about Andy McCarthy. He could have written for the old, pre-1992 National Review, but with the exception of a couple of part-time former military contributors, he’s about it. Increasingly, NR strikes one as being at the level of a good student conservative publication, like the Dartmouth Review. Goldberg, Lopez, young Podhoretz, et al. can be bright, witty, and sometimes make some good points, but they simply don’t come off as being serious analysts or commentators, and when compared to guys like Schlamm, Burnham, Meyer, Chambers, and even (to drop a level) Buckley in the old days, the seriousness deficit is painful to observe. It’s no wonder that much of the public treats our current struggle with our civilizational enemies as (in Mark Steyn’s phrase) “a reality show we’re tired of.” Goldberg, Lopez, and company are constantly going on about “we’re in a real war, a struggle for civilization” etc, etc. Well, then, ACT like it! Cut the constant pop culture references, try to recognize that there is life outside the 24 hour news cycle, GROW UP a little bit. For example, James Burnham had a fine sense of humor, but it’s hard to imagine him cluttering up the pages of “The Suicide of the West” with references to “I Love Lucy” and “The Untouchables” and other pop-culture phenomena of the day. If this is conservatism, it’s no wonder that much of the electorate doesn’t take it seriously as an intellectual force.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 11, 2006 06:32 PM | Send

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