The neocons’ intellectual suicide

I came upon the following quote from Norman Podhoretz’s book on “World War IV.” Podhoretz says the U.S. must use military force to install in the Islamic world democratic governments that will “fulfill the hopes ‘of the Islamic nations [who] want and deserve the same freedoms and opportunities as people in every nation.’” (p. 135.) I don’t have the book in front of me and don’t know if the words inside the sub quotes are Podhoretz’s or someone else’s, such as President Bush’s. Either way, Podhoretz is endorsing Bush’s oft-stated idea that Muslims DESERVE the same freedoms and opportunities that Americans have.

As I have previously pointed out, this is a hideous degradation of the American founding idea of a universal right to liberty, the same idea on which neoconservatism itself has always been based. Yes, people have the abstract right to liberty or freedom, but to deserve freedom, they must do certain things, namely, they must build a society and institutions conformable with freedom, and they must believe in their fellow citizens’ right to freedom, not just their own. Obviously, people who believe in submission to the rule of sharia, people who believe in following their imam as their supreme guide, people who care only about the rights of their own clan and not those of other clans living in the same society, people who rejoice when their children mass murder Jews, do not deserve freedom in the American sense of the word. To say that they do, is to pervert the noble idea of freedom into a global welfare program, in which the U.S. has the moral responsibility to deliver “freedom” and “democracy” to people who don’t want them and have not done the requisite things to acquire them.

Also, freedom in the American understanding requires adherence to truth, the truth of God-created human nature that both makes freedom possible and places constraints around freedom. To say that all people in the world, exactly as they are, regardless of their beliefs, behavior, and condition, deserve freedom, is to divorce freedom from truth and thus to turn freedom into license. Which of course is what the left has always been about.

For an unreflective man like Bush to speak such dangerous nonsense as that everyone “deserves” freedom is one thing. For the leader of the neocons to speak it—and not to be contradicted by any of his fellow neocons—shows nothing less than the intellectual suicide of the neoconservative movement.

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Paul Cella writes:

A fine post. Well said. You know, it wasn’t all that long ago that many neoconservatives had a robust notion of the civilizational framework necessary for liberty to flourish. I can remember reading their books with profit not ten years ago. More of that Desolation Row of neoconservatism, I suppose.

LA replies:

Thank you. Of course, one of the founding impulses of neoconservatism was to oppose the careless and destructive expansions of welfare state entitlement. Now the neocons support the president who says that all people on earth are automatically “entitled” not only to freedom and democracy, but to opportunity and prosperity and happiness, and, basically, all the goods of civilization, as I explained in this earlier article on the same subject in 2005.

Paul Gottfried writes:

This essay is correct but appears to place excessive hope in the value of intellectual refutations. The most successful and disastrous political movements of the last, bloody century were typically predicated on weak intellectual foundations and were often riddled with contradictions. With due respect to Hegel, “Nous” [reason] does not rule the world. Ideological idiocy does.

LA replies:

Then why even talk about politics?

You keep revealing an unacknowledged nihilism, the nihilism of paleoconservatism which has turned against, not just what America has become, but what America has been. When the Constitution was being debated and ratified, Washington, Hamilton and others kept expressing their wonder and astonishment that a people was forming their government through a rational process of consent of a whole community, rather than through force. You apparently don’t even believe in that as a possibility or as an ideal to be appealed to.

What positive vision or ideals do you and your fellow paleocons have to offer?

Professor Gottfried replies:
As a Christian, you should believe in divine Providence and saving grace. Why are you so deeply concerned with giving everyone a “vision”? Why can’t governments function to “restrain the wicked” and to limit violence, as St.Paul thought they should? What Hamilton and other venerable gentlemen tried to do two hundred years ago was predicated on a very different historical situation from ours, namely the presence of Northern European small landholding communities that were willing and able to look after themselves. We are now dealing with a consumerist mob, which receives instruction from the media and progressive public administrators. My students, by the way, told me yesterday that the Bible is written in Ebonics. Such people are unfit to govern themselves; nor do they have the slightest desire to do so.

LA replies:

I agree that much of the American population, through both immigration and cultural/moral degradation, has become such that it is not capable of self-government. But that does not relieve us of the question, what do the rest of us do about that? Perhaps America cannot survive. But the struggle for order continues. Specifically, the need of white Western people (along with the small number of nonwhites who share the same ideals) to have a social order continues. What kind of social order is possible? What shall we strive for?

PG replies:

I actually agree with your comments and questions above.

Maureen C. writes:

It’s bad enough that neocons like Podhoretz think it’s the U.S.’s job to establish democracy in the failed Islamic world of the Mideast and Africa, but the neocons also close their eyes to the U.S. State Dept’s policy of indiscirminately accepting the thousands of illegal aliens who enter the U.S., as alleged refugees. It’s time that the U.S. changed its policy of being the dumping ground for the abject surplus populations of failed states. Other states should learn to save themselves—they can start by examining and reforming the intolerant and limited religious and economic beliefs that create their chaos.

Christopher Roach writes:

A quote from Calhoun, available at the Liberty Fund’s “Online Library of Liberty”:

Such being the case, it follows that any, the worst form of government, is better than anarchy; and that individual liberty, or freedom, must be subordinate to whatever power may be necessary to protect society against anarchy within or destruction from without; for the safety and well-being of society is as paramount to individual liberty, as the safety and well-being of the race is to that of individuals; and in the same proportion, the power necessary for the safety of society is paramount to individual liberty. On the contrary, government has no right to control individual liberty beyond what is necessary to the safety and well-being of society. Such is the boundary which separates the power of government and the liberty of the citizen or subject in the political state, which, as I have shown, is the natural state of man—the only one in which his race can exist, and the one in which he is born, lives, and dies.

It follows from all this that the quantum of power on the part of the government, and of liberty on that of individuals, instead of being equal in all cases, must necessarily be very unequal among different people, according to their different conditions. For just in proportion as a people are ignorant, stupid, debased, corrupt, exposed to violence within and danger from without, the power necessary for government to possess, in order to preserve society against anarchy and destruction becomes greater and greater, and individual liberty less and less, until the lowest condition is reached, when absolute and despotic power becomes necessary on the part of the government, and individual liberty extinct. So, on the contrary, just as a people rise in the scale of intelligence, virtue, and patriotism, and the more perfectly they become acquainted with the nature of government, the ends for which it was ordered, and how it ought to be administered, and the less the tendency to violence and disorder within, and danger from abroad, the power necessary for government becomes less and less, and individual liberty greater and greater. Instead, then, of all men having the same right to liberty and equality, as is claimed by those who hold that they are all born free and equal, liberty is the noble and highest reward bestowed on mental and moral development, combined with favorable circumstances. Instead, then, of liberty and equality being born with man; instead of all men and all classes and descriptions being equally entitled to them, they are high prizes to be won, and are in their most perfect state, not only the highest reward that can be bestowed on our race, but the most difficult to be won—and when won, the most difficult to be preserved.

LA replies:

The Calhoun quote is impressive. Though his philosophical basis seems to be different from mine (since he seems to be, though I’m not sure he is, denying the very idea of natural inherent rights), he’s making a similar point to mine. I said that men have the abstract right to liberty, but that in order to acquire and possess liberty they must fulfill certain requirements. Calhoun says, “Instead, then, of liberty and equality being born with man; instead of all men and all classes and descriptions being equally entitled to them, they are high prizes to be won.” Leaving aside the philosophical difference, on the practical point he and I are agreed: liberty must be earned. Which of course used to be part of the common stock of wisdom of all Americans. No longer. Now we think that liberty is simply a free gift to which everyone is entitled. Or I should say “freedom,” since “liberty” conveys the idea of freedom under law, of self-government, while “freedom” suggests the ability to do whatever you want.

I wonder what Locke would think about the Calhoun passage.

James P. writes:

One more thing—to deserve freedom, you have to be willing to fight for it, and yes, die for it. It is impossible to sit back passively and let other people deliver freedom to you, because you will not be truly free no matter how hard others fight, unless you yourself fight for your own freedom. In the case of Iraq, if the Iraqis do not fight for their own freedom, and they are subsequently enslaved after our troops withdraw, then they emphatically will not deserve freedom. Tragic as the fate of the South Vietnamese was in 1975, they did not deserve freedom either, because not enough of them fought for it relative to the numbers who were willing to fight for Communism and the even larger number who sat there passively and allowed the Communists to enslave them. All similar misguided efforts to liberate those who aren’t willing to fight for their own liberty are doomed to failure.

LA replies:

Is James saying that if a country is fighting for its freedom, but needs some outside help, then it doesn’t deserve freedom (in which case the Americans would not have deserved freedom in the War of Independence, since they got crucial help from France at Yorktown)? Or is he only saying that if the country depends primarily on outside help, it does not deserve freedom? My impression is that the South Vietnamese were doing their part to beat back the Communists; they just didn’t have the strength to do so, after the Democratic controlled U.S. Congress cut off all funding for the U.S. Air Force as a strategic reserve to prevent a North Vietnamese invasion.

On another point, James says:

“[T]o deserve freedom, you have to be willing to fight for it, and yes, die for it.”

Norman Podhoret’s view is actually the exact opposite of this. He says right out that the Muslim countries do not desire freedom and that we must take over seven Muslim countries and impose freedom on them against their will. That’s what he said in 2002, and I don’t think he’s ever retracted it. Yet at the same time he says that the Muslims “deserve” freedom.

Putting these two statements together, we conclude that Podhoretz’s position adds up to the following:

“[T]o deserve freedom, you have to be willing to fight against it, and yes, die fighting against it.”

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 28, 2007 09:51 AM | Send

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