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Jeffrey Hart, The American Conservative Mind and Iraq

The Republican Party now presents itself as the party of Hard Wilsonianism, which is no more plausible than the original Soft Wilsonianism, which balkanized Central Europe with dire consequences. No one has ever thought Wilsonianism to be conservative, ignoring as it does the intractability of culture and people’s high valuation of a modus vivendi. Wilsonianism derives from Locke and Rousseau in their belief in the fundamental goodness of mankind and hence in a convergence of interests.

George W. Bush has firmly situated himself in this tradition, as in his 2003 pronouncement, “The human heart desires the same good things everywhere on earth.” Welcome to Iraq. Whereas realism counsels great prudence in complex cultural situations, Wilsonianism rushes optimistically ahead. Not every country is Denmark. The fighting in Iraq has gone on for more than two years, and the ultimate result of “democratization” in that fractured nation remains very much in doubt, as does the long-range influence of the Iraq invasion on conditions in the Middle East as a whole. In general, Wilsonianism is a snare and a delusion as a guide to policy, and far from conservative. ~Jeffrey Hart, OpinionJournal.com

It is with a certain satisfaction that I see OpinionJournal.com conclude its pretentious series on American Conservatism with the veteran Mr. Hart’s article, which ridicules more than half the things their other contributors have endorsed. Since the series was a not-so-subtle retort to the founding of The American Conservative (bringing us such rubbish as Max Boot’s What the Heck is a ‘Neocon’?), it is fitting that the series concluded with an article endorsing more of TAC’s positions than it did those of the WSJ editorial board. It is truly surprising to see such dissidence from the well-known party line allowed on the WSJ’s op-ed pages–it is noteworthy for its rarity.

There is some genuine satisfaction in seeing an old hand of the “movement” belittle the idols of the new generation and all but disown the Iraq war (or at least the ideological underpinnings of it) that has become the defining event of the “conservative” political hegemony of the past five years. As the Hansons of the world ignore reality and grip even more tightly onto the failed policy of invading Iraq as a transformative event and fundamentally prudent course, even bizarrely invoking the Korean War (yes, the Korean War!) as an encouraging precedent for “staying the course” in Iraq, Mr. Hart reminds us of what real “mainstream” conservative thought used to look like before the darkness fell.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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