Daniel Larison

Taking Exception (III)

As tiresome as it is, this idea that Barack Obama, of all people, is not an adherent of American exceptionalism is strangely popular. Perhaps it helps some people sleep better at night–I don’t get it. Have these people already forgotten Obama’s Inaugural Address, which even Bill Kristol admitted was “unabashedly pro-American”? Maybe they haven’t, but they hope that you have. Here is Mark Davis in The Dallas Morning News:

Where is the curriculum that teaches that beyond our flaws, we have been the greatest society the world has known? We have built that legacy with a devotion to liberty and leadership unmatched in modern times. Yet we are led today by people who see the United States as merely the name between Ukraine and Uruguay on the United Nations lobby directory [bold mine-DL].

This other “curriculum” is force-fed to us daily, not least through op-eds, articles, books and talk shows that seem to tell us nothing else. Of course, it is also delivered to us in public speeches by the very politicians who are now being accused of lacking in exceptionalist zeal. Obama’s Inaugural is one example, and one could mine the archives of his campaign speeches for ridiculous flourishes of American exceptionalism, which is why I have always marveled at the easily disproven misrepresentation of Obama as anything other than an American exceptionalist.

Then again, compared to Mark Davis, who can be anything but a post-American tranzi wallowing in the mire of his own self-loathing? Consider Davis’ simply ridiculous declaration:

What we used to widely feel has been given a fitting name: American exceptionalism. It does not teach that we are without sin or that we cannot learn. It teaches that against the backdrop of history, no country has freed, fed or inspired more people than the United States. No nation has contributed more to science, culture or enlightened thought [bold mine-DL].

It is the last sentence that seems particularly galling, since our contributions to “science, culture and enlightened thought” have been by and large derivatives of European contributions, and for the most part our contributions have been built on the foundations laid by European nations. That doesn’t mean that we haven’t made a great many important contributions, but like the bizarre fetish of tallying up how many of our soldiers have died for the freedom of other nations there is something unseemly, gawdy and arrogant in this constant call for others to recognize how magnificent and preeminent we are. It is this insufferable insistence on being first, best and supreme in everything that so many people find irritating, and not only in other countries. If the patriot never boasts of the largeness of his country, what does that make the American exceptionalist who can never shut up about how absolutely gigantic and awesome his country is?

Davis is not done:

Today, that magnificent view is dismissed as tired jingoism.

No, tired jingoism is dismissed as tired jingoism. The trouble is that some people seem to think that unless one signs off on every aspect of the tired jingoism, one is therefore automatically opposed to American exceptionalism. There are good reasons to push back against the idea of American exceptionalism, if only because it does seem to encourage tired jingoism far too often, but we should do this mainly to show that there is the possibility of an admiring respect that need not devolve into arrogant triumphalism that American exceptionalism tends to encourage.

Of course, having defined American exceptionalism in such an excessive way, Davis has all but guaranteed that fewer and fewer people will be interested in it. Confidence in America and respect for our actual, genuinely considerable accomplishments as a people are natural and worthy attitudes to have. Understanding the full scope of our history, neither airbrushing out the crimes nor dishonoring and forgetting our heroes, is the proper tribute we owe to our country and our ancestors. Exaggeration and bluster betray a lack of confidence in America, and strangely this lack of confidence seems concentrated among those most certain that mostly imaginary “declinists” are ruining everything. More humble confidence and less horror that our President is not engaged in stupid demonstrations of machismo might be the appropriate response to present realities.

P.S. For a necessary dose of sanity, here is Andrew Bacevich on “the American century.”

Update: A quote from an old column by a Canadian writer seems appropriate here:

Now, I don’t want to answer dogma with dogma. Strategic and national interests played major roles in the decisions of all combatants in the First and Second World Wars. They do in every war. It’s a messy world and the motives of nations are seldom simple and pure.

The sort of Americans who cheer for Fred Thompson would agree with that statement — as it applies to other countries. What they cannot seem to accept is that it applies to their country, too. For them, Americans are unique. The United States is unique. And what sets America and Americans apart is purity of heart.

“We are proud of that heritage,” Thompson said in Iowa after citing the mythology of America-the-liberator. “I don’t think we have anything to apologize for.”

Nothing to apologize for. Never did anything wrong in 231 years of history. Nothing.

This is infantile. And dangerous. A superpower that believes it is pure of heart and the light of the world will inevitably rush in where angels fear to tread. And then it will find itself wondering why the foreigners it so selflessly helps hate it so.

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Collaborators

Noah Millman has an answer to the part of this post where I talk about collaborators:

I’m pretty sure he’s wrong, because that would make Konrad Adenauer a traitor.

As a general rule, I think my red line dividing patriots from traitors holds up quite well, and I would maintain as part of the general rule that it really doesn’t matter why the invader is there. One might be able to find rare occasions when the latter part of this rule doesn’t apply, but the rarity of it should tell us something. Collaborating with an invader is as clear an example of betrayal of one’s country as I can imagine, because whatever objections one may have to the regime or constitution prevailing in one’s country part of any patriotic duty is to oppose foreign invasion. The people who conspired with a foreign prince in 1688 to overthrow their king were traitors on every level; the people who resisted them were the opposite. We applaud the former because we largely share their politics, or at least we share more of their politics than we do those of James II, and so most of us approve of past treasonous acts when they are committed for the “right” reasons.

Venizelos turned against his king and plunged his country into an unnecessary war with the backing of foreign powers to advance a nationalist territorial agenda. I don’t see how anyone could fairly call him a patriot. He welcomed foreign troops into his country to force the abdication and exile of the legitimate head of state in a blatant power play to pursue his own agenda and the wartime goals of foreign empires. He was certainly a nationalist and a political liberal, who believed he was justified in his betrayals on the grounds of possibly regaining historically Greek territories and resisting the decisions of the monarch, but everything he did from 1916-1919 was nothing but an extended betrayal of his country facilitated by foreign backing. It requires the embrace of an ideology or at the very least a religious or confessional politics to make such betrayals seem like virtuous and noble acts.

I think it is telling that Noah has to resort to the fairly atypical example of post-WWII West Germany to make a counter-argument. It is much more common for collaborationist regimes to be like that of Quisling, Horthy and Rallis in the basic alignment of a relatively small clique of collaborationist politicians and officers with the occupier against a large part of the population, which is then subjected to reprisals and punishments by the occupying forces working in tandem with collaborationist security forces. Noah would presumably not say the same thing about Walter Ulbricht, but then that might be because Ulbricht is a far more typical example of someone collaborating with an invader (in this case because of ideological affinity) than Adenauer could have ever been. Part of this does depend on the specific circumstances of the Allied invasion of Germany and the postwar settlement, but this would require us to acknowledge the rather exceptional nature of this settlement that distinguishes it significantly from just about every other occupation regime, which I think weakens the force of Noah’s reply considerably.

I suspect that if we worked our way through all the relevant cases in the modern era from the French creation of satellite revolutionary regimes in the 1790s to today, the examples of collaborators who might still qualify as patriots would be exceedingly few and the exceptional nature of their cases would confirm the general rule. Quisling has entered our language as a shorthand to describe collaborators; Adenaueur’s career was one of only a few of its kind, and we do not usually come across collaborators who prompt us to say, “Oh, so-and-so is a real adenauer.”

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The Paranoid Style

I’m sorry, but I just find the idea of minaret-shaped candies extremely amusing. ~Reihan

Who wouldn’t?

On a more serious note, Reihan was recently venturing into the bizarre territory of public opinion about Obama’s religion:

But there’s something so forehead-slappingly strange about the notion that you can’t help but wonder how, even after 100 days in office, Obama retains this air of mystery. In October, before the election, the Pew Research Center found that only 51 percent of Americans believed that Obama was a Christian, while 12 percent were convinced that he was a Muslim. The good people at Pew asked the question again in March, and they found that the numbers had barely changed: 48 percent think Obama is a Christian and 11 percent think he’s a Muslim. The rest are unsure.

I share the forehead-slapping incomprehension, and I have said more than a few times when confronted with the idiocy of the Obama-is-Muslim nonsense, but I wish Reihan had kept the paragraph he quotes as part of the original item. This is the paragraph I mean:

So despite the fact that Obama has been a church-going Christian for most of his adult life, more than a tenth of the country believes that while roaming the streets of Jakarta as an elementary schooler, Obama met some wily bearded imam who lured him into his roving Muslim-mobile with delicious minaret-shaped candies and converted him to radical Islam. Dazzled by his obvious intelligence, and convinced long before David Axelrod that Americans were itching to elect a half-Kenyan youth as president, he also sold young Obama on the idea of keeping his Islamic zealotry under wraps. That way he could transform America into a radical Islamic caliphate without anyone ever noticing.

This is, of course, brilliant, and it is a pity Reihan didn’t use it in the final version, since I think it conveys very effectively how absurd the fears of Obama’s Muslim connections are. After all, this would not merely be a case of taqiyya, but some kind of super turbo-charged taqiyya the likes of which no one has ever seen.

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Culture Vs. Imperial Culture

It is with some reluctance that I have to say that James’ response to Andrew Bacevich gets things very wrong. Or, rather, he is right in what he says up to a point, but what he says does not respond to Bacevich’s claim at all. As it happens, James helps makes Bacevich’s point for him. James writes:

I would daresay that it is precisely incorrect to see empire as destructive to the reification of imperial society and culture.

But Bacevich isn’t talking about “imperial society and culture.” If, as Williams argues, empire turns “a culture away from its own life as a society or community [bold mine-DL],” the existence of an “imperial society and culture” is the proof that this is true. As much as historians of certain empires might not like to admit it, “imperial society and culture” are parisitic things and thrive at the expense of local and regional societies and cultures. Not only does the capital of an empire lure the talented, ambitious and smart people from the provinces, enriching the metropole and depriving their home countries of the social capital that these places need far more than the capital city, but also the maintenance of the capital and/or central government often requires the plunder of the rest of the empire through extensive taxation. The capital is almost always characterized by an overabundance of place-seekers and men on the make, which is perhaps inevitable whenever there is such a great concentration of power and, in connection with that, the wealth of patronage, which means that a continental nation-state, regardless of its overseas pursuits, will have significant deforming effects on the social and cultural life of the rest of the country through the promotion of its continental-imperial society and culture to which the aspiring and ambitious will conform themselves.

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Regime, Polity And Country

I’m less clear, though, that one can be a patriot while radically critiquing the very definition of one’s country’s polity. ~Noah Millman

Noah has a serious and worthwhile reply to my earlier post on this subject (Noah’s original post is here, and James Poulos’ comments are here). The several cases he mentions are worth pondering, and he has hit upon the part of my argument that is most vulnerable. After all, there is a difference between the polity and its regime at any given time. For example, France has been an identifiable polity under numerous different regimes over the last 220 years, even if it has come into being at the expense of regions that were once countries in their own right, and one might argue that there have been significant revisions in our government in our history such that the same can be said of the United States.

However, I would maintain that before there is a regime, and before there is a polity, there is a country to which we have obligations that come first and which may come into conflict with our duties as citizens of a polity and as subjects of a regime. That is, patriotism is among our pre-political obligations, and one in which we initially have the least choice. Constitutional patriotism is slightly different, in that it takes into account the nature of the regime and the regime’s effect on the polity’s well-being. Constitutional patriotism permits dissent and even resistance against a regime when it begins to threaten the established constitutional order, because it tends to assume that the country and its formal political constitution are closely tied together. Behind even constitutional patriotism, though, is a recognition that it is the country, and not even the political constitution, that is most deserving of love and loyalty. As I wrote about Bolingbroke the last time we were debating patriotism at the Scene:

…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.

Noah at one point mentions Petain. Collaborationist regimes, it seems to me, are a product and a good example of what Lukacs has called anti-patriotic nationalism. In practice, beyond sparing their countries some of the direct ravages of occupation (though, obviously, in the Greek experience, the occupation grew worse precisely during the period of active anticommunist collaboration under Rallis because the main resistance group had been organized by communists), collaborationist regimes aligned themselves during the war with invaders out of fear of socialist, communist and Western imperialist menaces. Petain may have been a patriot before the surrender, and even as the head of a collaborationist regime he may have believed he was doing what was best for his country, but if there is a red line that must separate patriots from traitors it is whether or not one collaborates with an invader. It really makes no difference why the invader is there. I might go so far as to say that even if one lived under a monstrous regime that cruelly misruled one’s own country, it would not be a patriotic act to aid its foreign enemies.

My final point would be that it seems to me that all patriotism, properly speaking, is local or at most regional. One of the frauds of nationalism is the idea that one can feel real loyalty and attachment to a part of a nation-state that is hundreds or even thousands of miles away. This is not natural, but to the extent that it is even possible it is the product of conditioning and constant indoctrination. It is often remarked that in the antebellum Republic most people identified with their states as their countries, and their patriotism obliged them to side with their states. Their natural attachments had not yet been so vitiated that they could imagine identifying with a continental empire simply as their country. One of the great problems with a consolidated regime and a large nation-state for a polity is that loyalty, while broad and superficial, is also remarkably shallow, because it is far too abstract for people to maintain loyalty to a regime or to a polity that is so large.

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Rumpsy-Dumpsy

Who is the intended audience for this kind of argument? Who is it attempting to persuade? People who have basically given up on a majority Republicans — that is, the “conservative rump” — are in a poor position to influence them. ~Jim Antle

To return to the Specter business one more time, a few words in defense of this “rump” remark. It seems to me that when you have a leading conservative Senator, in this case Jim DeMint, expressing a desire to have 30 true believers in the Senate rather than 60 compromised members, you are faced with a situation in which the conservatives who are most hostile to Specter and happiest to see him go are exulting in their status as a political rump and are expressing their hope to be reduced still more to an adamantine core. I suppose that is their prerogative, but when people begin acting like the rump of a once-influential movement it is not exactly unfair to use the name.

Certainly, those most interested in rebuilding a winning electoral coalition of the right should attempt to persuade the majority of the right that seems to think there is nothing that cannot be solved with redoubled conviction and indifference to every past failure except excessive spending. For my part, I’ll acknowledge that my arguments are not always made in the most, er, irenic way, and I will admit that the strong certainty that dissident conservatives have in our views on where movement conservatives have gone wrong tends to clash violently with their equally strong certainty that the movement hasn’t gone wrong at all. At some point, though, assumptions and opinions have to be tested against empirical evidence, and one argument will be more in agreement with the evidence than the other, and it is at that point that tone and choice of words become secondary and the substance of the arguments has to be reckoned with. Movement conservatives and party regulars have been making a series of bets in the last few months that die-hard fiscal austerity is not just the right thing to do, but it is also the winning approach, and on at least two major occasions this approach has backfired spectacularly.

Most everyone agrees that, as part of the generally confused Tedisco campaign, Tedisco’s indecision on the stimulus bill badly damaged him, but few have dug deeper and wondered why Tedisco was unsure how to respond to the legislation at first. If the approach of die-hard opposition was such a clear winner–and in NY-20 it ought to have been even more obviously advantageous given the traditional Republican leaning of the district–Tedisco ought to have reached this conclusion quickly. Instead, he had to balance his knowledge that the voters in the district were responding favorably to the idea of the legislation, however vaguely or poorly they understood its provisions, with the national party message that ended up dragging him down. If the all-in bet against the stimulus had been the right move electorally, Tedisco need never have wavered. In Pennsylvania, the stimulus bill was again at the center: it was the last straw for conservatives, and disagreement over the bill evidently made it impossible for Specter to stay in the party, and so to keep the bet on fiscal austerity going conservatives decided in effect to throw away a Senate seat. Of course, it is possible to take this approach and say that the principle of fiscal austerity (during one of the worst postwar recessions, no less) is more important than election outcomes, but one cannot at the same time say that principle of fiscal austerity is the means to winning back the majority.

Persuasion becomes virtually impossible when the target audience doesn’t see the need for even having the discussion. There may not be enough of an effort by critics of the mainstream from “reform” and dissident conservative perspectives to appeal to the persuadable, but one of the reasons why “the conservative rump” is in its current predicament is that it long ago stopped making any effort at persuasion in relating to the rest of the country, insisted on reiterating its greatest hits and expecting the country to follow. Persuadable, non-ideological voters were lost for lack of seriously trying to secure them as reliable supporters. Suburban voters were driven away by the combination of Iraq, general incompetence and perceived ideological rigidity. In addition to being an awful propaganda line for the war, “stay the course” became a large part of the GOP’s unimaginative electoral strategy as well. Nowadays, if they acknowledge mistakes at all, mainstream conservatives are keen to pin responsibility on anyone but themselves while tarring anyone who points out the obvious errors of the last decade as treacherous or some crypto-liberal eager to score points with the media. Some of these people may exist, but the presumption that every critical voice falls into this category is evidence of intellectual exhaustion and insecurity.

Demographic and cultural changes have been working against conservatives for years, but there was no coherent or defensible attempt to counter this with an expansion of the coalition. Heavy-handed, clumsy handling of immigration legislation in the final Bush years was a perfect example of how not to expand a political coalition, and whatever short-term gain Medicare Part D managed to provide it sabotaged every GOP effort to regain credibility on fiscal matters. Disastrously, these badly misguided attempts to add to the coalition have been taken as proof that no addition was needed and everything had been fine as it was before. According the weird tribal rules that “no one should speak against the family,” those who do offer some ideas and proposals are distrusted because they are deemed unreliable…because they offer ideas and proposals. After 12 years defined mostly by failure, accommodating partisan goals and being good team players, mainstream conservatives seem even more intent on whittling down the number of those who count as “real” members of “the team.” After a decade of ruining conservatism in the name of “getting with the program,” there is now a new program we are all supposed to endorse despite its exceptionally bad timing, its misunderstanding of the political landscape and its misdiagnosis of past electoral defeats. Of course, those on the right rude enough to point these things out are clearly in the employ of George Soros, or so we would be reliably informed whenever anyone in the mainstream deigns to engage with these arguments.

Conservatives’ fairly tenuous hold on power in Washington was masked by the post-9/11 rallying to the GOP and the advantages provided by redistricting and gerrymandering after 2000. People laughed at Ruy Teixeira for talking about an emerging Democratic majority in 2002, when such a majority seemed more of a fantasy than ever before, but instead of responding pre-emptively to the long-term demographic and political danger to the right that stared them in the face the GOP pushed for the “pre-emptive” invasion of another country and its leadership kept trying to force its members to accept the inevitability of mass immigration. Both blew up in their faces, as the war lost the GOP most of the country and immigration demoralized and alienated huge numbers of conservatives. Most of the “reform” conservatives were on the wrong side of both questions, of course, while the dissidents were right about both, which I suppose makes the more recent complaints from “reformers” about the GOP’s electoral woes and deficit of ideas harder to take. Even so, there is more worthwhile thinking going on at these two conservative margins than in the whole of the mainstream at the moment, and unless mainstream conservatives want to remain a rump they ought to pay more attention to what the critics are saying rather than the way in which they are saying it.

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Demographics And Foreign Policy

Scott has written a challenging essay for World Affairs Journal that is worth your time. He argues that a multicultural America resulting from the waves of post-1965 mass immigration will be more receptive to a humble, less interventionist foreign policy, and that this exposes contradictions in the views of both restrictionist paleoconservatives and pro-immigration neoconservatives, among others. Scott writes:

What seems more likely is the entrenchment and expansion of a worldly, cosmopolitan elite, increasingly multicultural and transnational, that bears little connection to the WASP establishments of the twentieth century, the cold warriors, or even the Bush administration. American foreign policy will necessarily become less ambitious, more a product of horse-trading between ethnic groups. Messianism, in either its Protestant or neoconservative variants, will be part of America’s past, not its future. Americans will not conceive of themselves as orchestrators of a benevolent global hegemony, or as agents of an indispensable nation. Schlesinger, for one, exaggerated the extent of the fall when he averred that a foreign policy based on “careful balancing of ethnic constituencies” was suitable only for secondary powers, like the late Austrian-Hungarian Empire. But he exaggerated only slightly.

This claim seems persuasive at first, but I have my doubts. It seems persuasive to me because a few years ago I started to notice the non-interventionist or neutralist instincts of large parts of the Democratic Party, and these instincts were most concentrated among the poor, less educated and non-whites. As this profile of the “mind our own business” voter suggests, minding our own business is not something that elites qua elites are typically interested in, but it is rather an attitude that is strongest among those who do not see themselves as having any stake in or responsibility for world affairs. Regardless of how poorly many of our elites have understood the rest of the world, they fancy themselves to be quite knowledgeable and believe they have an obligation that goes along with being the winners in our quasi-meritocracy to “get involved” in the affairs of the globe as much as the power of the United States permits them to do so. That doesn’t mean that the future globalist and interventionist foreign policy of Scott’s “worldly, cosmopolitan elite” will be identical to what we have been experiencing for at least the last 16 years, but I see little reason to think that any future American elite is going to dismantle or retreat from U.S. hegemony, no matter where their ancestors came from. While it is true that the old sort of assimilation is not as effective on account of the sheer number of immigrants, the reduced pressure to assimilate, and the greater importance for education in order to be employed in and integrated into the modern economy, the Americanism to which immigrants assimilate is flexible enough that it can be adopted by almost anyone. Rather like nationalism in its abstraction, it is extremely superficial, but for that reason it demands less thought and can also include far more people.

Furthermore, as a matter of experience over the last 16 years the rise of multiculturalism at home has coincided with and to some extent fed into the hyperactivity of U.S. interventionism. This is not only evident in the official valorization of U.S.-approved and backed separatists as representatives of the cause of “multiethnic democracy,” regardless of whether they were any such thing, but also in the (admittedly opportunistic and self-serving) promotion of ethnic self-determination at the expense of other states. We impute “multiethnic tolerance” to our clients, whether it is true or not, and we exploit ethnic difference and grievance to undermine other powers, and the latter is done as often as not thanks in part to the pressure from immigrant communities from the regions in question. The administration that engaged in numerous interventions and deployments and coined the phrase “indispensable nation” was also the administration that celebrated a Cabinet that “looked like America.” The “proposition nation” idea served as a way to redefine American identity in much more fluid terms, which facilitates inclusion of new ethnicities, who would in turn be taught the progressive nationalist, “liberating tradition” version of U.S. history and would accept this mythology as truth. Multiculturalism has functioned as a sort of way-station on the way to instilling an ideological understanding of American identity, and it also works to break down an existing broadly shared cultural identity. Some more vehement Americanists have found multiculturalism disturbing because of its supposed threat to national unity on a political level, and this could endanger American power projection abroad.

Many defenders of the “proposition nation” idea will fret about the potential “Balkanization” resulting from multiculturalism, which they seem to mean specifically in the sense of Balkan separatist wars and ethnic rivalries, but the two sides are not so very far apart in their goals or their assumptions. They differ on points of emphasis. Even if multiculturalists claim “diversity is our strength” and “proposition nation” advocates are more concerned to reinforce common national bonds, they actually believe the same things about American exceptionalism, they feed off of each other and each side grows stronger as the other gains influence. Arguably, the impulse towards war and national service as unifying experiences will become ever stronger as the population becomes more ethnically and culturally diverse. Likewise, it is conceivable that the secular religion of some variant of Americanist ideology and national messianism may gain ground as Americans become more religiously diverse.

If America is treated as an idea, rather than as a place with a specific historical and cultural identity, there is not necessarily any reason that demographic shifts will change elite attitudes towards the American role in the world or their willingness to project power anywhere. As the demographics change, the parts of the world in which America intervenes most often may change as domestic political pressures prompt elites to pay more attention to certain countries than they had done in the past, but there is so much of a built-in institutional bias towards activist and forward policies and the competition among American elites continues to be defined in terms of who can best manage the empire and “lead” the world that the ability for members of growing immigrant communities to influence policy will be determined in large part by their willingness to conform to elite and establishment values.

I see a few pitfalls that make it unlikely that mass immigration will at least usher in a sane foreign policy. For one thing, the “worldly, cosmopolitan elite, increasingly multicultural and transnational,” is one that we already have to some extent. This is by and large the same kind of elite that endorses and defends U.S. hegemony as necessary to their understanding of global order. They may sour on this or that military deployment, and they may disagree among themselves about tactics and priorities, but hegemony itself is non-negotiable. Questioning this is how one gets on the fast track to marginalization. The perversity of the current arrangement, in which the “worldly” elite exploits the nationalistic sentiments of the sections of the country most inclined today to support hawkish policies, is not likely to give way to an elite that is highly responsive to relatively more non-interventionist sentiments among a more ethnically diverse population.

Looking at this in narrow political terms, opposing illegal immigration specifically and mass immigration generally continues to draw enormous support. It is not enough by itself to win an election, but opposition remains tremendously popular. Advocating for a sane foreign policy of the Bacevichian realist or Ron Paul non-interventionist kind frankly does not draw anywhere near the same amount of support on either side of the spectrum. What has to be stressed is that the U.S. entered WWI and WWII and has embarked on intervention after intervention since the end of the Cold War regardless of the effects of waves of immigration. While ethnic heterogeneity may have temporarily restrained the impulse to intervene in the past, it did not prevail, and the ensuing mass mobilization in the world wars and the deployment of smears against the patriotism and loyalty of dissenters in more recent years have all worked to smother expressions of ethnic and political diversity.

In the end, foreign policy is an elite concern, and among most elites activist and interventionist policies continue to be seen as acceptable and desirable. Mass immigration stirs up populist backlash because it more directly affects everyday life in cities and towns across the country, and the status quo on immigration remains unacceptable to a broad majority of Americans drawn from all races. There are quite a few reasons to want to curtail mass immigration, not least in its potential to worsen economic and social stratification and contribute to the so-called “turtle” effect with its negative consequences for the formation of social capital, and the remote possibility that it could eventually create a large constituency for a sane and rational foreign policy is not nearly enough to counter these more pressing and immediate concerns.

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Getting Old

Browsing AmSpec’s blog, I came across this item from our old friend R.S. McCain. His point seems to be that he is older than Ross Douthat and Jonathan Chait, and no one would contest this. As far as I can tell, the only other thing he says worth noting in response to Ross’ column is his approval of this blindingly stupid TPM post, in which the author seems to be unaware that Ross doesn’t actually think Dick Cheney should have been the Republican nominee, or at the very least he hasn’t the foggiest what it is that Ross was actually arguing. Ross’ column was a thought exercise, which can be difficult for people who do not think.

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Radical Critique

Late in life, George Kennan speculated that the United States had simply got too big to be a functioning democracy and a responsible international actor. To preserve the Republic, the Republic would have to be destroyed, broken up into ten to twelve smaller states. Suppose Bacevich became convinced of something similar – what on earth would he do with such knowledge? No one would call Kennan “anti-American” – he was profoundly patriotic, greatly in love with and greatly loyal to his country. But his was not, ultimately, a critique of this or that policy of the American government – it was a radical critique of America itself. And once you are critiquing the very nature of your country, what’s the practical difference between an argument from love and an argument from hate if both arguments end in a similar conclusion? ~Noah Millman

This mixes together a few things that should be kept distinct. If Kennan was profoundly patriotic, greatly in love with and greatly loyal to his country, does it follow that he should not embark on a radical critique of the polity that existed at the present time? Might it not be that profound patriotism, great love and great loyalty to country demand such a radical critique of polity? I said the other day that Kennan was something of an exile in his own country, a position with which I sympathize more and more all the time, and I have remarked before on the striking similarities between Kennan and Solzhenitsyn, who were ironically at odds over questions of policy by the time Solzhenitsyn had come to be an exile in this country. No one really doubted that Solzhenitsyn loved his country and desired something very different from those who hated his country, and indeed his witness against the evils of the Soviet regime stemmed from his love of country. There is a vast practical difference between those who desire renovation and devastation.

In a less extreme way, Kennan’s patriotism and his common-sense recognition of what Montesqieu and Antifederalists knew over two centuries ago–that an extended republic cannot survive as a genuine republic–required him to question the status quo of a continental nation-state that had grown too large for the kind of self-government that had once been ours. This is not a “critique of America itself,” but a critique of a kind of polity, one that is actually far removed from much of the American experience. “America itself” is different from and more than its polity. The nature of America is not in its government, or at least not entirely or primarily in its government. Indeed, “America itself” contains the elements of many different Americas that found greater expression in a more genuinely federalist system, and which might once again find full expression in a more decentralized political order. It is natural that regimes would want to define loyalty to country as disloyalty, because loyalty to country threatens the regime’s monopoly on loyalty, but it is not required that we go along with it.

I am doubful that no one would call Kennan anti-American. Had he not been an important public figure, had his name not been tied to containment doctrine, I am not so sure that Kennan would have been protected against such invective during his lifetime. Indeed, I am not absolutely certain that no one ever flung such a label at him on account of his opposition to Vietnam or other foreign adventures. The views Kennan professed over the course of his mature life would have assuredly qualified him for the label anti-American in the minds of a great many people. That would not have made it so, but it should cause us to think very seriously about the difference between loyalty to America and the idolatry that is Americanism.

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Imagine The Possibilities

What possible reason would a conservative have to attack Cheney instead of Obama? ~Warner Todd Huston (via John Schwenkler)

Because only one of the two supported the commission of war crimes? That is one reason that comes to mind. Because only one actively pushed for an unnecessary and unjust war, and the other opposed it? There’s another. There are two possible reasons, and I’m not even trying that hard. Reihan might have very different reasons. He might recognize that Cheney is a widely loathed and basically unlikeable public figure. Even if Reihan were concerned more with marketing and image than with policy substance, which is not the case, he could see that there is a disadvantage in having an irritable man doing a fair imitation of the Penguin as one of the major spokesmen for one’s party and political cause.

That said, we should not simply dismiss Huston out of hand. He and those like him are the political equivalent of Darwin’s discoveries on the Galapagos: strange, unusual creatures cut off from the rest of the world that deserve to be studied and understood as the weird evolutionary offshoots that they are. It is rare to find people who seem genuinely unaware that Cheney is deeply unpopular and also implicated in atrocious crimes, and rarer still to find people who know this and still think it wise to have him making the rounds on television serving as a leading Republican spokesman. Some might say that Huston is simply a pitiable product of the conservative cocoon, but I say that he can offer us evidence for the strange mutant varieties of conservatism that have developed in isolation from reality.

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