Monday, October 24, 2005

Scowcroft and the Other GOP

Brent Scowcroft has been grumbling quietly in the background about the Iraq War, and with good reason. Amy Davidson interviewed Jeff Goldberg about his article in the current New Yorker about the Scowcroft/Bush 43 split. Here's a telling quote:

Are the conservatives turning against the neoconservatives?

They’ve been doing so for some time. Just read George Will. Their complaint is that neoconservatives aren’t conservative; they’re liberals with guns. Conservatives tend to take Scowcroft’s more jaundiced view of human nature. Paul Wolfowitz, on the other hand, is a liberal, but a liberal who believes that transformation can be brought about by force, not just persuasion. Obviously, there are other breaches within the Republican Party, on the Harriet Miers nomination, on spending, and on and on.

They're liberals with guns.

The enlightenment/liberal political project has long seen its ultimate end as a world government--from the League of Nations, to the UN, to the EU. The purpose is noble enough--to sublimate human conflicts from war into political/legal discourse. As Joseph Ellis notes, the greatest success story of channelling regional discord from potential war into a stance of 'agree to disagree' political tumult was the adoption of the US Constitution.

But Russell Kirk, intellectual father of 20th century conservatism, clearly enshrines "recognition of the need to cultivate affection for the multiplicity and variety of traditional life and custom, in opposition to the narrow and reductionist ideologies of equalitarian and utilitarian social schemes" (Link) as one of the bedrock principles of conservatism. A policy of serially injecting democracy into traditional societies from the outside is not consistant with a comprehensive conservative outlook. And a liberal certainly would not be so cavalier about the use of force. The neoconservatives have managed to combine the worst tendencies of each end of the political spectrum.

GW Bush is not a conservative, he is an evangelical; American political, economic, religious and cultural norms are his gospel. As president, he has the military means to be a crusader. We need to check any other adventures into Syria or Iran, before his disjointed and ungrounded policies do more harm.

Hat tip to Charging RINO


At 6:54 AM, Anonymous tristero said...


Conservatives championed Bush. Conservatives championed the Bush/Iraq war, and the the tax cuts, and the assault on social security, and the obsessions with sex, and his neglect of his fellow countrymen drowning because of the incompetence in his administration.

He's yours, honey. Bush is a conservative. Don't blame us. We warned you. We told you so.

You have only one defense. That's to claim he's an incompetent conservative. And it is up to you to provide evidence that conservative can ever be a competent ideology. Good luck.

Oh, and Mr. Kirk's definition of conservatism - with the exception of the odiously paternalistic "affection" - is nearly a textbook definition of what we Enlightenment liberal types mean by multi-culturalism. Such an attitude - affection not included - flows from an essentially eqalitarian weltanschaung. What utilitarianism has to do with anything is a different story.

Many liberals, this one for sure, have major problems with utilitarianism. As my dear departed teacher Sidney Morgenbesser once said, the problem with utilitarianism is that it's basically worthless.

At 10:18 PM, Blogger fmodo said...


Thanks for the response, and the several points that you have raised.

Agreed that many conservatives championed Bush, but many did not (see here). In the end, a lot of Republicans voted for him simply because Kerry was such a weak candidate, not because they were all that enthusiastic.

Certainly, conservatism is a term that encompasses a lot of ideas and viewpoints. My major point in this post is that the old-line Republicans in the vein of Bush 41 and Dole very often feel alienated from the evangelical brand of conservatism the Bush crowd espouses--at this point it's a tenuous marriage of convenience.

And it is just historically true that folks like Wolfowitz and Scooter Libby are called 'neoconservatives' precisely because they are former liberals (Libby was the president of his prep school Democrat club) who turned to conservatism later in their careers. This is the sense in which I mean that they took a 'liberal' outlook on the role of government, and armed it with militarism and nationalism usually associated with conservatism.

As to conservatism's relationship to multiculturalism--that deserves a post of its own.

At 5:44 PM, Blogger Bill Baar said...

There are conservatives and liberals on both sides of the Iraq war.

There are conservative isolationists, and then interventionists (I like liberationists) who agree with Bush when he said our National self-interest, and the interests of universal democracy are now one.

For Liberals, the difference is far graver. A great many liberals believe the war is blow back from American Implerialism, and that in fact its America that's the worlds greatest enemy. That's a tougher dispute and one that's been fought before among liberals with Henry Wallace. Read Peter Beinart's Tough Liberalism for that history, and then Nick Cohen who I think neatly summed up the question that will crack up today's left as exemplified with the Iranian oppositionist Maryam Namazie.

Namazie is on the right side of the great intellectual struggle of our time between incompatible versions of liberalism. One follows the fine and necessary principle of tolerance, but ends up having to tolerate the oppression of women, say, or gays in foreign cultures while opposing misogyny and homophobia in its own. (Or 'liberalism for the liberals and cannibalism for the cannibals!' as philosopher Martin Hollis elegantly described the hypocrisy of the manoeuvre.) The alternative is to support universal human rights and believe that if the oppression of women is wrong, it is wrong everywhere.

The gulf between the two is unbridgeable. Although the argument is rarely put as baldly as I made it above, you can see it breaking out everywhere across the liberal-left. Trade union leaders stormed out of the anti-war movement when they discovered its leadership had nothing to say about the trade unionists who were demanding workers' rights in Iraq and being tortured and murdered by the 'insurgents' for their presumption.

As Namazie knows, the dispute can't stay in the background for much longer. There's an almighty smash-up coming and not before time


Post a Comment

<< Home