We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.
In America’s ideal of freedom, citizens find the dignity and security of economic independence, instead of laboring on the edge of subsistence. This is the broader definition of liberty that motivated the Homestead Act, the Social Security Act and the GI Bill of Rights. And now we will extend this vision by reforming great institutions to serve the needs of our time. ~George W. Bush, Second Inaugural Address
The first quote drips with the propaganda of Lincoln and FDR. It sounds the same as Lincoln’s claim that the Union could continue “half slave and half free,” and just as FDR’s wartime Capra Why We Fight series depicted a “free world vs. slave world” opposition that made participation in the war seem as if it would have been obligatory regardless of Pearl Harbor. The mind of today’s terrible simplifier cannot imagine the continued existence of our way of life and political regime without feeling compelled to alter someone else’s and replace it with some imitation of our own. Of course, free nations can coexist in the same world with those unlike them, and there is no necessary antipathy between them.
Only a regime founded on subversive principles feels the compulsion to expand continuously, ever fearful of being snuffed out by the forces of order and authority. Above all, democracy, like any mass regime, pushes a uniformity of type among its people: because democracy cannot function without a high degree of homogeneity, democratic culture encourages the mediocre, the idea of equality and the fake anti-elitism of the democracy’s public spokesmen in the press and government. This drive to uniformity within leads some radical partisans to believe the entire world must also be made uniform if their own system is to survive.
One might object that it is Bush who is the ‘authoritarian’ and his opponents who represent ‘real’ democracy or representative government, but I would prefer to say that Mr. Bush is a classic democratic despot. Were he an ‘authoritaran’ in truth, he would base his rule first on principles entirely different from those connected with popular power and the rhetoric of a demagogue. Those I would call authoritarians make no attempt to ‘legitimise’ themselves with staged elections or liberal rhetoric, as they find nothing of value in these things. It is precisely someone for whom ideas of order and authority are antithetical who picks up the rhetoric of nihilists at the moment when he is in a position of authority. We should take care not to confuse Mr. Bush’s wanton lawlessness and unconstitutional actions with ‘authoritarianism’ as such, as there is no one more hateful of true authority than one vested with responsibility and power who uses them without regard to law or restraint. Someone who believes in the supremacy of the Constitution is a sort of authoritarian, in that he believes in a foundational, legal authority that cannot rightfully be denied or ignored by the government. Someone in revolt against that authority, as Mr. Bush is in several ways, would be prone to the kind of paranoid subversive preaching of apocalyptic liberation that seemed to characterise his inaugural address.
The pervasive intrusiveness and abuses of a democratic despot are almost always vastly greater than those of the limited authoritarian or military leader, as the latter is concerned principally with public order and maintaining control; the authoritarian frankly does not care about ideology, except as it may be useful, and will never be compelled by ideological suppositions to pursue politically dangerous courses of action. Franco is an archetypical authoritarian who managed and balanced competing ideological factions as need arose; Mussolini is the sort of clownish ideologue who ruins his country to prove a point about national greatness, and it was he who developed the skills of demagogue and mass leader.
It is not just that the structure of democratic government is such that it may tend towards despotism on account of the excessive centralisation of power and disorder and fractiousness of the people, but that there is something in a democratic character that encourages despotism and servitude–the will to servitude, one might say. There is a curious paradox at the heart of democracy, identified by Tocqueville over 160 years ago, which is that democracy breeds tremendous independence of spirit in the sense that it instructs men that they are not servants of any master, but at the same time subjects them to a dependence on the central power (because democratic people will suffer no immediate or intermediary superiors) that breeds a terrible servility. Democratic man is thus at once extremely haughty and servile all at once–he is proud and wishes to command, but is bound to bow before the mass state.
I would go further and say that this contradiction causes him to suffer from bouts of radicalism, as he translates his independent-minded arrogance into the desire to spread the democratic system elsewhere and impose his vision on the world. Yet his servility before the mass state at the same time encourages him in these endeavours to yield more and more powers to the state so that it can accomplish his desire to expand the reach of democracy. His identification with the state becomes complete in times of crisis, as the state is “us” embodied, or so he has been taught.
In general, in modern history the aggressive regime that insists on all other regimes conforming to its structure and ideas has historically almost always been the democratic or mass regime raging against the republics, monarchies and oligarchies. The Holy Alliance was but a timid and ultimately unsuccessful counter-offensive to the Jacobin and Napoleonic onslaught. This is because, at least in the modern cases, as long as democracy is accompanied by a liberationist ethic that disdains restraint and exalts freethinking it becomes one of the most control-obsessed kinds of regimes: all nations must adapt to the same freethinking way and institutions that interfere will be liquidated. Mr. Bush allows that different cultures might produce different results in their democratic practice (most of which will almost certainly explode the democratic system in question), but I believe his fanatic hope is to so weaken and homogenise whatever native cultures exist that they become little more than copies.
If the second quote sounds sickeningly like FDR’s Four Freedoms, it is surely no coincidence that the advisors on the speech apparently included three major neoconservative writers: Victor Davis Hanson, Charles Krauthammer and Fouad Ajami. Given their past writings, I can assume that Mr. Ajami was responsible for a good part of the prattling about expanding freedom overseas, and the bits about ‘ending’ tyranny virtually reek of Hanson’s contempt for anything even remotely non-egalitarian. The Rooseveltian parts must be Krauthammer’s, though, as only a vintage neoconservative such as he could seriously admire government programs as a vehicle of freedom.