Daniel Larison

Bizarre

Not everyone share’s Mr. McCain’s view that the defeat in Vietnam was a “disgrace,” or that the result of a war carried out “Not In My Name” nonetheless has bearing on the worth of one’s country. ~Bret Stephens

I should hope that no one shares the view that the outcome of a war has bearing on the worth of one’s country.  That’s crazy.  The idea that your country becomes less worthy if it loses a war or withdraws from a pointless conflict is terrible.  Why, it sounds dangerously anti-American.

One comment

The Kennedy Legacy

Another thought on Lieberman’s McCain endorsement.  Even taking into account the bizarre awe in which modern Democrats hold JFK, I thought it was extraordinary that Lieberman said that the “one, in my opinion, closest to the Kennedy legacy, the John F. Kennedy legacy, is John S. McCain.”  That’s amusing–John S. McCain. 

It’s never made sense to me why Obama would want to take on the mantle of JFK, except to get endorsements from the Kennedys of today, since JFK’s tenure was the perfect embodiment of exactly what Obama’s worst critics fear about an Obama presidency: foreign policy blunder after screw-up after unmitigated disaster.  Likewise, it escapes me why the candidate who intends to run a campaign focused heavily on national security would want to be compared to probably the worst national security President of the Cold War (unless you give Truman top billing on that list).  What was Kennedy’s record, except a litany of bad ideas, failures, disasters and near-apocalypses?  Consider: the failure at Vienna; the Bay of Pigs; the Missile Crisis (a crisis enabled to some extent by the perception of weakness at Vienna); advisors in South Vietnam.  Yes, I dare say that McCain is closest to that Kennedy legacy, and it is the best argument put forward this month for voting to keep him out of power. 

This is not someone whose legacy (the Vietnam War) one should want to attach to your candidacy if you want to win the election, but for some strange reason our first Boomer-free election is becoming an obsession with the ’60s and both campaigns are trotting out JFK’s name on the assumption that it is a good thing to be compared with him.

P.S.  As an aside, there is a certain absurdity in Joe Lieberman complaining about people “on the left” who are leading the party astray, as if he were some Zell Miller-esque yellow dog or Jim Webb in the 1980s.  The only thing more annoying than Joe Lieberman himself is his conceit, which many people indulge out of habit, that he is some kind of “centrist.”  Perhaps if we think of the political spectrum as a series of rings surrounding a cavernous abyss (or perhaps a pit like the Sarlaac), then Lieberman and McCain can fairly be called “centrists.”

3 comments

Government, Constitution, and Patria

You never know when Bolingbroke is going to come in handy.  In his thoughtful post on the subject, Reihan replied to one of my arguments:

(4) Daniel rejects the notion that patriotism is primarily about the state my sense is that patriotism is commonly, and properly, understood as “constitutional patriotism.” If it is not about the state as it exists, it certainly is about the state as it ought to be — an idealized allegiance to a particular regime. That’s not exactly Maurizio Virolo’s view [sic], if I recall correctly: he allows for some amount of liberal nationalism under the guise of fatherland fealty, which he sees as part of patriotism. It does roughly capture the view of plenty of “sober centrists.”

Now Bolingbroke has written, as I’m sure many already know, On the Spirit of Patriotism and The Patriot King, so he has a few things to say about patriotism.  Bolingbroke is doubly useful since, as I have mentioned before, he was the first to coin the term “unconstitutional” and laid out his theory of loyalty to the constitution and resistance to unconstitutional government.  So, first of all, the regime and the constitution are not identical, and so Bolingbroke might be said to possess “idealized allegiance to a particular regime,” or rather he has an idealised version of how the regime should conform itself to the constitution.  I think we can all agree on that much.  But is Bolingbroke therefore a “constitutional patriot”?  Is his patriotism really just his constitutionalism, or is his constitutionalism just one part of his love for his country? Having set up the problem with plenty of entertaining polemic about the evils of Walpole (bloggers have nothing on this man’s contempt for the minister), he gets to the heart of the question:

The service of our country is no chimerical, but a real duty.  He who admits the proofs of any other moral duty, drawn from the constitution of human nature, of from the moral fitness and unfitness of things, must admit them in favour of this duty, or be reduced to the most absurd inconsistency.  When he has once admitted the duty on these proofs, it will be no difficult matter to demonstrate to him, that his obligation to the performance of it is in proportion to the means and the opportunities he has of performing it; and that nothing can discharge him from this obligation as long as he has these means and these opportunities in his power, and as long as his country continues in the same want of his services.  These obligations then to the public service may become obligations for life on certain persons….

He describes the “real patriot” as someone “who bends all the force of his understanding, and directs all his thoughts and actions, to the good of his country.”  That’s a pretty high standard, actually, but we can see here clearly that Bolingbroke understands patriotism to be essentially the desire and work for the good of one’s country.  Now when it comes to how to bring about that good, his constitutionalism comes to the fore, because he assumes that there is the possibility of having either a good, well-ordered and constitutional government or one of many degrees of corruption of that government and that this affects the good of the country.  But the devotion to the constitution or the practices of the regime are incidental and secondary.  His country would never become undeserving of love, even if the government were to overthrow the constitution.  It is not the state that the patriot serves; it is not even the constitution, except insofar as the constitution protects and serves the country.  Bolingbroke speaks of the patriot’s service being dedicated to his country.  To this someone may say, “Well, obviously!  How boring, Larison!”  But for some reason many people keep wanting to move patriotism from being service to the country (presumably admirable) to service to the state (questionable or even objectionable, depending on the state).   

Reihan mentioned Viroli, whose book For Love of Country also touches on rival neo-Stoic conceptions of patriotism.  Bolingbroke participated in that side of the neo-Stoic tradition of early modernity that affirmed love of country as a “true and natural love” (du Vair), as opposed to the neo-Stoicism of Lipsius that was quite influential at the Spanish court during the era of Olivares (whose biography by J.H. Elliott is a great, if quite long, read).  Appropriately enough, dismissing love of country as irrational passion, as Viroli tells us Lipsius does, is well-suited to an imperial monarchy, not least since local patriotic loyalties (including the patriotism of the so-called ”Little Castilians” who chafed at the burdens of empire) are threatening to any cosmopolitan empire.  Patriotism is also a crucial element of republicanism, which Viroli notes that Lipsius is attacking, and Bolingbroke fits into this republican tradition as well–his writings are, as Viroli notes, “replete with republican idioms,” despite his avowed monarchism and his obvious support in The Patriot King for Prince Frederick William.     As Viroli relates it, even Milton, who might be closest to the “give your heart to freedom” argument, defines patriotism very, very differently from Kateb et al.  Viroli writes, ”For Christian men love of country cannot be a ‘blind and carnal love’; it must be a form of compassion, an affection for our fellows, for their and our liberty, their and our rights that has nothing in common with lust for power, wealth, and the false glory that comes from expansion.” [italics mine-DL] It seems clear to me that this has nothing whatever to do with any kind of nationalism, and to the extent that it concerns the state at all it is an almost entirely negative form.  P.S.  As a matter of general interest, here is a line of argument that will be familiar to students of the Federalists and the patriot rebels (and which has a certain relevance today as well):

Remember that the opposition in which you have engaged, at your first entrance into business, is not an opposition only to a bad administration of public affairs, but to an administration that supports itself by means, establishes principles, introduces customs, repugnant to the constitution of our governments, and destructive of all liberty; that you do not only combat present evils, but attempts to entail these evils upon you and your posterity; that if you cease the combat, you give up the cause: and that he, who not renew on every occasion his claim, may forfeit his right. 

Incidentally, he has some interesting things to say about Cato the Younger:

…but this I will say, that the second Cato driven out of the forum, and dragged to prison, enjoyed more inward pleasure, and maintained more outward dignity, than they who insulted him, and who triumphed in the ruin of their country.

One comment

Isolationists

As a follow-up to this post at the Scene, I should make a few clarifications.  I don’t like, and generally try not to use, the word isolationist, because the word is pretty much meaningless and leads to all sorts of misunderstandings.  The word isolationist is inherently pejorative and is an extremely loaded term, and moreover there are not actually any real isolationists yesterday, today or at any other time.  These figures are the bogeys of progressive globalists.  They are to domestic foreign and trade policy debate what “Nazi” and “fascist” are to descriptions of foreign governments targeted by Washington: convenient props to be used to justify current policy and tar opponents with words with strong negative associations.  Like these latter attacks on foreign governments, the terms ”protectionist” and “isolationist” reflect the time warp and warped sense of history that progressive globalists of both parties share, in which it is perpetually the 1930s, the next Hitler is always on the rise and they must, like FDR and Churchill, boldly resist their domestic foes to prevent catastrophe, yadda yadda yadda. 

As Pat Buchanan said last week:

Isolationist is an epithet used to smear those patriots who adhere to Washington’s admonition to stay out of foreign wars, Jefferson’s counsel to seek “peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none” and John Quincy Adams’s declaration that America “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.”

Now it is true that there is a strong sentiment, especially in the Democratic Party, that we should “mind our own business” in the world, and there is a strong backlash against free trade agreements.  What is remarkable, then, is not that the Democratic presidential candidates have been touting their antiwar and anti-NAFTA positions in an election year, but that they are still broadly extremely interventionist and supportive of free trade generally.  As on the right, you cannot actually find any living, breathing isolationists on the left; you might find some protectionists, but the are clearly not in charge of anything.  In this sense, Lieberman is going overboard by trying to make a much narrower disagreement over Iraq into the occasion for declaring that the Democratic Party left him, and not vice versa.  The problem isn’t that the Democratic Party has really turned away from the hawkish internationalism of the past, but mainly that Lieberman is so hawkish that he feels compelled to support every use of force regardless of whether it continues to make sense to do so.  However, the broader shift of the party to the left is real and it is a good development from the perspective of the progressives who are winning the internecine fights.

One comment

Obama And Israel (Continued)

A couple of items to ponder for those hoping or fearing some significant change in how the U.S. relates to Israel and Palestine under an Obama administration: Gen. McPeak rejects the attacks against him here, and The New York Sun editorialised in defense of Obama against charges that he was insufficiently “pro-Israel” over two months ago.

One comment

@TAC!

The main American Conservative blog is now up, and the contributors are rapidly outpacing me in producing new posts.  If I’m not careful, they’re going to make me look downright lazy.  Read Tom Piatak on Jonah Goldberg, Kara Hopkins on the response to Prof. Bacevich’s Obama article, Tim Carney on lobbying, Kelley Vlahos on McCain and the new “GI Bill,” Leon Hadar on media coverage of McCain, and Michael on Obama’s prospects in Pennsylvania.

One comment

No Nationalists Here

Following up on the continuing patriotism/nationalism debate, Reihan explains why he is a nationalist, and I try to explain why I am not.

One comment

Where Universalism And Nationalism Meet

My thanks to Scene colleague Matt Frost for his post on Kateb, Wilkinson and patriotism.  I generally agree with his remarks, and I should have more to say about it in coming days.  Let me note that I agree with something Wilkinson said in the comments to Matt’s post:

But please don’t forget the role of the “national greatness” folks. And please recall how mightily the administration worked, successfully, to attach the war to the popular surge of intense post-9/11 patriotism.

Indeed, I am not likely to forget any of this, but to then blame the outcome on patriotism is rather like blaming oxygen for an arsonist’s crimes.  It is true, but irrelevant, that an arsonist would be unable to commit his crimes without oxygen; it does not therefore follow that oxygen is undesirable or that we would be better off without it.  Patriotism is not ”fire,” but it is potentially explosive because it is a strong attachment and one charged with emotional power.  Surely there is some middle ground between arson and explosions on the one hand and suffocation on the other.   

It does not therefore follow that “Without that [patriotism], it [the Iraq war] would not have had political legs.”  Initial opposition to any military missions overseas, almost no matter the reason given for them, is consistently in the minority in America.  One of the reasons for this is the ability of the administration in power to manipulate both patriotism and liberal universalist principles and, when the propagandists are really working overtime, to fuse the two together to make the argument that ours is an “ideological nation” (I. Kristol) that will have to engage in conflicts for the sake of liberal democracy and universalism.  For the Jacksonians who are worried that we are engaged in a lot of touchy-feely internationalism, there are the nationalist manipulations of patriotism and the nationalist zeal for power to get them on board; for the “centrists” and liberal hawks there are invocations of America’s “responsibility” to the world and the importance of defending our “values.”  Liberal hawks who fell for this and have since recanted would now like to pretend that the second part of the message was completely empty and insincere, but the reason why the nationalist argument is so powerful–and consequently so dangerous–is that it can deploy an argument for the crude use of hard power and wrap it in decorative packaging of allegedly high-minded liberal principles. 

To the extent that American nationalism is rooted in an exceptionalism derived from political propositions and is not, as we are reminded so often, a nationalism of a particular ethnicity, nationalism and liberal universalism are inextricably bound up together.  To say that the Iraq war was universalist, rather than nationalist, or nationalist rather than universalist is to fall into a pointless, dead-end argument every bit as futile as the dispute over whether this war of aggression should have been ”unilateral” or “multilateral.”  It was both nationalist and universalist (and incidentally it was both unilateral and multilateral at times), because the people who clearly are American nationalists are also some of the loudest proponents of projecting power for the sake of what they believe to be universal values.  Usually at this point someone will say, “Aha!  They are universalists, so they can’t be nationalists!”  But this is mistaken. 

How are they nationalists?  They glorify the progressive narrative of national unification and consolidation; they champion the centralisers and expansionists in American history; they identify the country with the state and see the state as the embodiment of the nation, which makes them react against criticisms of the state with accusations of betrayal; they are usually supportive of national wars because they see them as agents for creating national unity out of disparate elements.  Neoconservatives are among these nationalists.  This may seem controversial or strange to those who are accustomed to thinking of neoconservatives simply as universalists or globalists, but thanks to their definition of the nation–an abstraction defined by its regime and political values–they can be the kind of nationalist who quite seriously identifies the power of his nation-state with what he will inevitably frame as the highest aspirations of mankind.  This is nothing new: liberal nationalists all across Europe and the Americas conceived of their struggles for national liberation and liberalism to be one and the same, and often proclaimed future era of national greatness as a means of spreading liberal revolutionary principles to other parts of the world.  French, British and German liberals have all had more than their share of “national greatness” and mission civilisatrice moments, and they are hardly alone.  The aggressive impulses of nationalism are, of course, dangerous enough on their own, but they are made even more dangerous by the respectability that the fusion with liberal principles seems to lend nationalist causes.     

That is what I find so strange about my WWWTW colleague Steve Burton’s comment in which he said:

A frankly nationalist crusade would not have failed anywhere near so badly.

I’m not sure what the argument behind this is, unless it is that a war fought purely to project American power in the Near East and framed simply in terms of our government smashing another state because it could would have generated less Iraqi resistance or would have won greater international support.  The more relevant question might be: failed to do what?  How would the objectives of a “frankly nationalist crusade” have differed substantially from the war as it was actually fought?  Indeed, without the promise that the war would improve the lot of Iraqis and could be classed, however incredibly, as a liberation there would have been less domestic support and even less foreign support.

5 comments

"Inferior Patriotism"

Will Wilkinson does get this much right:

The kerfuffle over Barack Obama’s pastor is in large part about whether the man is patriotic enough.

Instead of rejecting this kind of attack or pushing back against it, he then proceeds to applaud Obama for his allegedly “inferior patriotism,” which he takes as a given because Obama does not engage in demonstrative patriotism to the same degree as others (as if flag-pin-wearing has a necessary connection to real love of one’s country).  Referring to Kateb’s reply, he says:

He implies something that I believe to be correct: the proud and enthusiastic patriotism of Americans bears a large measure of responsibility for the immoral and failed war in Iraq. This administration’s war would have been impossible had our mindless love of country not made the public rather too ready.

But nationalism, and jingoistic nationalism at that, isn’t patriotism.  Furthermore, patriotism isn’t mindless.  Indeed, once it becomes mindless it has already degenerated into something else.  At the risk of repeating myself, this is the crucial difference between patriotism and nationalism: patriotism is love of one’s country and defensive, while nationalism is expressed typically through contempt and fear of other nations and a will to power over other nations.  The Iraq war was made possible by a propaganda campaign by the government, the exploitation of public fear and anger, the warmongering of nationalists and the twisting of patriotic sentiment into support for a war of aggression by casting the war dishonestly as one of self-defense.  That the administration succeeded in this is not a measure of mindless love of country, but rather a fairly mindless foreign policy consensus that says that small states on the other side of the planet pose meaningful threats to the United States.  To cede that it is patriotism is mainly to blame for the Iraq war, rather than the government’s abuse and manipulation of patriotism, is to let the government off the hook much too easily.

3 comments

Self-Defense

Kateb also said:

In truth, if strict self-defense were ever at stake, patriotism would be unnecessary: people would not require any inflated passion to defend what was not an inflated purpose.

But if we followed Wilkinson’s recommendation and loved freedom while being faithless to any particular country, we would need to have patriotism to inspire us to defend a country that might not be sufficiently liberal in its regime.  Certainly, if the invader promised to liberate us from the restrictive and oppressive regime that ruled our country, we might be inclined to collaborate with the invader if we “loved freedom” and eschewed patriotism.  Never mind for the moment that the logic of this position is identical to that of neo-imperialists who expect foreigners to abandon their patriotic loyalties to help us overthrow their governments.

Post a comment
← Older posts