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October 8, 2002

Hendrik Hertzberg:
The vision laid out in the Bush document is a vision of what used to be called, when we believed it to be the Soviet ambition, world domination. It’s a vision of a world in which it is American policy to prevent the emergence of any rival power, whatever it stands for97a world policed and controlled by American military might. This goes much further than the notion of America as the policeman of the world. It’s the notion of America as both the policeman and the legislator of the world, and it’s where the Bush vision goes seriously, even chillingly, wrong. A police force had better be embedded in and guided by a structure of law and consent. There’s a name for the kind of regime in which the cops rule, answering only to themselves. It’s called a police state.

The Bush doctrine’s answer to this objection is essentially this: Hey, we’re the good guys. People—especially people who share our values, like the citizens of democratic Europe, but everybody else, too—should embrace American hegemony, because surely they know that we would use our great power only for good things, like advancing democracy, keeping powerful weapons out of the hands of terrorists, and facilitating peaceful commerce. And so we have done, most of the time; and so no doubt we would do, most of the time. But what a naive view of power and human nature! What ever became of the conservative suspicion of untrammelled power, the conservative insight that good intentions are not, are never, enough? Where is the conservative belief in limited government, in checks and balances? Burke spins in his grave.

In other news, I just want to say that I’m fantasted to be living in a world where the part of Eugene McCarthy is being played by Robert Byrd. [05:44 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Hendrik Hertzberg::

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2002, 08:18 PM:

What ever became of the conservative suspicion of untrammelled power, the conservative insight that good intentions are not, are never, enough? Where is the conservative belief in limited government, in checks and balances?

I'm disgusted to say that these days, that belief seems to be hanging out at sites like this one.

Jim Henley ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2002, 10:43 PM:

People of both left and right with sensible views of American neo-imperialism have to start asking themselves: What, really, is the worst that "icky people" like Joseph Sobran and Pat Buchanan can realistically do to the country, and what is the worst that a well-connected group like AVOT or the Project for Conservative Reform ("Project" being the true word in their name) or, oh, the Bush Administration can do. The question is the beginning of wisdom, and the first step in choosing sides wisely.

Max Sawicky said a few weeks ago that the fundamental question now is whether you want to live in an empire or not. The only extent to which he is wrong is that that has been the fundamental question since before Dubya took office. It becomes worth noticing when people you otherwise disagree with are on the right side of the big question.

Then you start to wonder how much the reps of the "icky people" actually stem from the determined efforts of people on the wrong side.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2002, 11:09 PM:

It is one of the guiding principles of Electrolite that "it becomes worth noticing when people you otherwise disagree with are on the right side of the big question."

Nonetheless, Electrolite is far from convinced that the rep of (to name a certifiably icky person) Pat Buchanan is entirely the product of "the determined efforts of people on the wrong side."

Jim Henley ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2002, 11:22 PM:

Entirely? Hardly. But I read Buckley's "In Search of Antisemitism" when it came out, and when I was a good neoliberal who regularly renewed his subscription to the New Republic and felt that the Gulf War was a vital test of national character. Even at the time, a part of me realized that I had to really strain to accept Buckley's argument as definitive.

Buchanan is clearly a product of his time, class and upbringing when it comes to his instincts on race and religion. They're bad, and like many politicians of his generation (Robert Byrd, anyone?), he's only partially mastered them. He's way wrong on trade, immigration and what we might call the theocratic issues. (But he was also the rare presidential candidate with a kind word for medical marijuana.) But on foreign policy he's very very good.

Daryl McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2002, 11:46 AM:

I agree with Jim completely here. (Hi, Jim)

I consider myself very liberal, but I feel like I can agree to disagree with principled conservatives like Sobran, or with principled libertarians like Jim. But the modern-day conservatives seem completely unprincipled to me. They have a visionary idea of what they want the world to be like---a world-wide confederation of capitalist governments led by the US---and they seem, like old-style Marxists, to be willing to do whatever it takes to achieve this vision. They are profoundly *un*conservative, if conservatism is a philosophy that views the means as important as the ends.

I'm a little frightened by Buchanan, myself, but he does seem to be constrained by principles.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2002, 12:05 PM:

I really don't know anything about Joseph Sobran, so I have no opinion about his principles or lack thereof. I do have to say, though, that simply having principles and being constrained by them has never seemed to me in itself admirable. I'd much prefer to deal with unprincipled people than with people whose rigorous principles include the belief that they urgently need to do me harm. Admiration for "principles" has limits.

That said, I certainly agree with Daryl McCullough's critique of much of modern "conservatism." Conservatives used to be good at pointing out the short path from idealism to Thermidor. Where that ability went, I don't know.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2002, 01:04 PM:

"Where that ability went, I don't know."

Perhaps they spent too much of the 90s playing _Sid Meier's Civilization._

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2002, 01:40 PM:

I wouldn't mind actually seeing some link that has an explicit articulation of what the Bush Doctrine is.

But I think Daryl's point is well taken. I would only caution you to read more of Sobran before you call him a "principled" conservative. Some of his screeds, for example, are available at Holocaust Revision sites.

Sample: http://codoh.com/zionweb/zifewcrit.html

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2002, 01:50 PM:


John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2002, 03:22 PM:

Actually I meant primary docs. But thanks, Bookman mentions them and they're easily found:


and here.

Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2002, 06:41 PM:

Joseph Sobran was kicked out of the _National Review_ (in the 80s, I believe) for being overly concerned with the Jewish Menace. The story is told in _In Search of Antisemitism_.

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2002, 07:53 PM:

For a broader outlook in the same issue of the New Yorker, there's this article by Fareed Zakaria. He seconds some of Hertzberg's points but puts it in much better historical context (and without Hertzberg's condescension).

wendy ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2002, 01:09 AM:

kinda off the topic at hand but i enjoy read this blog because unlike many other left-leaning ones out there it doesn't seem to suffer from emotional retardism.

check out this article inspired by the recent peace rally in central park


Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2002, 06:28 AM:

As a brit growing up while our empire collapsed (my father was the British consul in Ismailia on the Suez Canal in 1956 when I was one year old), I find myself very conflicted about American imperialism.

Imperialism itself is extraordinarily seductive. It sems to me self-evident that Pakistan (as it wasn't) and Kenya were much better governed when we ran them. I'm not saying that I'm right to believe this, only that there are some things that imperialists hold to be self-evident, and they are pleasant and comforting to hold. An American empire might be almost wholly benevolent for a while, in lots of places. Certainly, the strain of Victorian, Christian ruthless priggishness which enabled us to run India is more faithfully preserved in someone like John Ashcroft than in any European politician.

But I don't think Americans could run that kind of empire. Perhaps I know only the wrong ones. But I don't think they want to; and it is greatly to the credit of the USA that I can't imagine it fighting successfully any of the Savage Wars of Peace that come with the white man's burden.

And it does seem pretty clear that the worst possible outcome, for America and for the rest of the world, is for it to grab for an empire and lose, becaseu that could only happen after some really nasty wars. So what are the alternatives? Not grabbing for an empire at all? Grabbing and getting one? Are either of these realistic?

It's a serious question.

wendy ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2002, 07:16 PM:

Good questions, Andrew.

"The Europeans may have been imperialist, but they knew how to make a building." --Liev Schrieber in The Daytrippers

It's so disheartening to met that modern-day Europe is swamped with so many mediocre poststructuralist flakes.

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 05:56 PM:

"... it doesn't seem to suffer from emotional retardism."

Be sure to use that as an advertisting pull-quote, Patrick. High praise, indeed.