Before we read the next issue, let’s take another look at issue 15.
Just in the last Republican primary debate it was claimed, by the debate hosts themselves, that Ron Paul stands to the Left of President Barack H. Obama when it comes to foreign policy and the military. Jeffrey Lord of The American Spectator has likewise been making the claim——for months now——that only a Leftist could hold the views that Dr. Paul does.
This is entirely wrong. What’s particularly funny, and disgraceful at the same time, is the commentary by Mr. Lord. Conservative Russell Kirk he quotes so as to display Kirk’s disagreement with libertarian political philosophy to his readers. That’s fair enough. But what makes it not, in actuality, is that Lord does this within the contexts of discussing foreign policy.
For anyone who has actually read the late Russell Kirk beyond a single book, however, and understands his worldview, knows that Kirk’s views on foreign policy and the military coincide with Paul’s.
The best article that shows this is by Thomas Woods:
“Do Conservatives Hate Their Own Founder?”
Thus arrives a moral dilemma for Lord: Either his knowledge of conservatism, the right-wing, and the scholars associated with it is terrible and he is not qualified to be an authoritative voice to question the right-wing credentials of anyone, including non-interventionists, or he’s simply a demagogue and is to be viewed as a disinformation propagandist.
Probably it is a bit of both.
What’s imperative for all of us to understand is that a policy of non-interventionism, as opposed to interventionism, be understood as the correct conservative and libertarian position in regards to foreign policy. Empire should be rejected by all.
Ideas of global democracy, the spreading of progressive culture, the top-down transformation of local heritage, social and institutional engineering, empire, and war have more in common with the Left than the Right. Oftentimes, progressives have called for war and global management precisely for left-wing “social justice” and other abstract principles.
In addition, it is no coincidence that the biggest advocates in the past for war have been the most eager to engage in wartime economic planning. Major education progressives, like John Dewey, had this view. Franklin Roosevelt’s slogan for planning at home was “we planned in war.”
Woodrow Wilson’s ideology was democracy and its spreading. That’s not particularly conservative. Let’s look at what is below.
At the Heritage Foundation, Kirk said that “In general, Republicans throughout the twentieth century have been advocates of prudence and restraint in the conduct of foreign affairs.” Whereas “Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson were enthusiasts for American domination of the world.” But “Now George [H.W.] Bush appears to be emulating those eminent Democrats.”
Similarly, traditional conservative Robert Nisbet reports this in his small, great book Conservatism: Dream and Reality:
“Of all the misascriptions of the word ‘conservative’ during the last four years, the most amusing, in an historical light, is surely the application of ‘conservative’ to the last-named. For in America throughout the twentieth century, and including four substantial wars abroad, conservatives had been steadfastly the voices of non-inflationary military budgets, and of an emphasis on trade in the world instead of American nationalism. In the two World Wars, in Korea, and in Viet Nam, the leaders of American entry into war were such renowned liberal-progressives as Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy. In all four episodes conservatives, both in the national government and in the rank and file, were largely hostile to intervention; were isolationists indeed.”
When you read Nisbet, you would be hard pressed to find a more compelling and convincing argument against empire than in The Present Age: Progress and Anarchy in Modern America.
To return to Kirk, we’ve already seen his views on military life and the draft at the Ron Paul Notebook. So Kirk agreed with Ron Paul on the immorality of conscription. What’s more, Kirk’s opinion was not dissimilar to libertarian Murray Rothbard’s.
In that same Heritage Foundation lecture linked to above, he called the American government an “empire,” and obviously he didn’t mean that as a compliment.
From his point of view, the term conservative in its real meaning was moribund. Just as “liberalism” today pretty much means a partisan devotion to the Democrat Party, the same can be said of “conservatism,” mutatis mutandis. It has been poisoned by the political parade, and its spokesmen reside in the “sports talk” of talk radio where Gresham’s Law resides.
According to Llewellyn Rockwell, Kirk once wrote to him that he wanted to see “Bush the Elder to be hanged on the White House lawn as a war criminal.” Kirk was against the first war with Iraq because and not despite his conservatism. What would he say about President George W. Bush or President Barack H. Obama?
Moreover, Kirk understood the reality of blowback (as Dr. Woods also explains): “we must expect to suffer during a very long period of widespread hostility toward the United States — even, or perhaps especially, from the people of certain states that America bribed or bullied into combining against Iraq.”
Kirk continued: “In Egypt, in Syria, in Pakistan, in Algeria, in Morocco, in all of the world of Islam, the masses now regard the United States as their arrogant adversary; while the Soviet Union, by virtue of its endeavors to mediate the quarrel in its later stages, may pose again as the friend of Moslem lands. Nor is this all: for now, in every continent, the United States is resented increasingly as the last and most formidable of imperial systems.”
“We’ve Been Neo-Conned,” correctly says Ron Paul. Kirk would agree.
Neoconservative Max Boot, for example, has desires for what he calls “hard Wilsonianism.” Then there’s William Kristol who has said that the U.S. should exploit its “military supremacy and moral confidence” to achieve “benevolent global hegemony.”
Such unrealistic abstractions, conformist principles, and utopian (dare I say, fascistic?) ideas are of course incompatible with Kirk’s views. As Russell Kirk wrote, “cultural form and substance cannot be transported intact from one people to another.” Therefore he believed that transforming a peoples by military might generally can’t be accomplished. His (real) conservative view of militarism is equally clear: “there is no tyranny more onerous than military life.” “Prudence,” a key principle of Kirk’s, is completely absent in today’s foreign policy, and so is just war theory. (Preemptive war doesn’t qualify.)
As we have explored at this blog, Russell Kirk had praise for politicians who understood the evils of empire. He applauded Republican Robert A. Taft’s foreign policy. (Other politicians of a like-mind we can turn to include Howard Buffett and George H. Bender.)
Richard Weaver, another prominent traditionalist conservative, saw things not unlike Russell Kirk. Whereas today modern conservatives see nothing wrong with how war is conducted, and will go so far as to defend the use of atomic bombs, Weaver argued in Visions of Order that it’s a violation of conservative morality to kill noncombatants.
Nothing, wrote Weaver in that book, “should arouse deeper alarm than total war.” The loss of a true culture harms man’s conception of any kind of just theory of war or the appropriate conduct any war should have if one unfortunately takes place.
In particular, both left-wing egalitarianism and democracy he saw as leading men to conduct wars more unjustly. It lead to a lack of distinction, discrimination, and hierarchy. Once a society or a nation is thought of as a homogeneous creature with detached and equal individuals, this is the point where war becomes war against all.
“Those who had insisted that certain groups, by their nature or by their vocation, had a right to be spared the sufferings of war now had nothing to appeal to. The differences on which the appeals had formerly been based were dismissed as illusory or as ‘undemocratic.’ Naturally the closer society is moved toward a monolithic mass, the harder it becomes to plead for any kind of exception. One was considered to be like one, and one like all, and this egalitarianism was followed by many corollaries asserting the right and liability to equal treatment.”
Richard Weaver reasoned that it is not “mere” technological advances, but ideology and the changes in culture that shifted the conduct of war.
Everyone should read his entire essay in Visions of Order. In my mind, it’s a brilliant expose.
As we conclude this issue and move into the next, let’s have no more of this idea that non-interventionism is a left-wing idea or that it is somehow moral or ethical to conduct wars as they are today conducted. Empire and the military way of life goes against the nature of cultural and social conservatism. And there are consequences—-there is blowback—-to empire. More genuine and earnest conservatives, like Russell Kirk, have never been opposed to looking at unintended consequences of that nature.
Threats and evil exists in the world, without question, but empire hasn’t been solving it. Neoconservative war projects like Iraq have not turned out well. There was no need for that war. Terrorism, as we covered in a previous blog note, has been helped and not hurt by it. We need defense and security, but not empire. That’s why this nation needs a radical change in foreign policy.
Hopefully with Ron Paul out there there will slowly be a change in ideas on this issue, related issues, and their subsets. We all must do our part to change ideas. Liberty is not just about doing your own things, but morality as well. Dr. Paul understands that. That’s why he seems to be most passionate in speeches and in his book on these topics, and so should all of us.