Overlearning Lessons


Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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17 Responses

  1. Avatar Freddie says:

    You can’t spread democracy through force of arms; trying to do so is just a basic contradiction in terms. Spreading stability through force of arms is always self-defeating in the short term (by definition), and in the long term, the record is really, really bad. We’re still stuck on “should wes”, when “can wes” remain the absolutely essential questions.

    No other policy in American politics could have such a horrendous record and yet enjoy more chances than an aggressive foreign policy.Report

  2. “No other policy in American politics could have such a horrendous record and yet enjoy more chances than an aggressive foreign policy.”

    I think the Left’s aggressive domestic policy in support of welfare (Great Society, etc.) enjoys a similarly horrendous record. And it hasn’t worked, either! Just saying!Report

  3. Freddie: I absolutely agree with you on that. My point is that intellectual neoconservatism is not (or at least was not) necessarily a reflexive belief that military force could or should solve just about every problem, nor is it a belief that any actions can be justified if they are intended to spread and/or protect liberal democracy. That many, relying on a dumbed-down version of neo-conservatism, think that it does provide such justification is not an indictment of the seminal neo-conservative thinkers, but an indictment of the way in which nuance gets lost when a fairly complex intellectual idea gets translated to the masses.Report

  4. Indeed Mark. The moral clarity that I was referring to in my piece wasn’t intended to be a green light to any and all opportunities for intervention. That clarity cuts both ways, as it were, and would likely have provided significant evidence against, say, the invasion of Iraq (in no small part because of the lack of clarity around that decision).

    In reverse, such clarity doesn’t necessarily justify all of America’s excursions/interventions abroad, as I think many fear (perhaps rightly so given the fervor of extreme nationalism that seems to have embedded itself in popularized neoconservatism). Rather, such clarity would seek to, as the word denotes, clarify when use of force is appropriate and when it is not.Report

  5. Scott:
    Continuing with the Fukuyama example, I think his case proves your point that moral clarity would have provided significant evidence against the invasion of Iraq. Fukuyama supported covert action and military aid to Iraqi dissidents, but when push came to shove, he opposed the decision to invade Iraq (if memory serves correctly).Report

  6. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Though “moral clarity” really strikes me as so objective, so intangible…can something so mercurial as that provide us with a foreign policy compass?Report

  7. E.D.: In and of itself, no. But some kind of moral clarity is a pre-requisite to the development of a reliable compass, not just in terms of foreign policy but also in terms of politics and culture in general. It’s important to remember that neo-conservatism largely developed as a response to what was viewed as a lack of moral clarity amongst the 1960s-era political Left, and not just the Left’s preferred foreign policy (which, I would argue, was in turn a result of the American Left overlearning ITS lessons….but that’s not something I’m prepared to discuss right now).Report

  8. E.D., is it not perhaps the case that notions of moral clarity seem “mercurial” precisely because we are increasingly slipping into an orientation of relativity. Part of my suggestion in defending neoconservatism was that we need to work at developing a more tangile sense of moral clarity that would better guide our foreign policy compass.

    Part of my condemnation for neoncons came from the fact that they identified this as an important project, but never seemed to really grapple with the difficulty of truly developing such clarity in the context of a complicated and dynamic world and allowed their notion of clarity to be co-opted by a strict adherence to nationalism/national interest. At least so it would seem insofar as they came to power and had to translate critique into policy, as Mark suggests.

    So in aligning my condemnation with my defense, I’m suggesting that we pull this element of neoconservative out of its wreckage and do a better job of it than has been done to date.Report

  9. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Well, I’m certainly curious as to where you’ll go with this, Scott. The task of importing morality or idealism into foreign policy in place of cold, hard realism is Herculean, to be sure. I think the trick is not overstepping, but that is almost inevitable given the nature of power – sort of the tragic flaw of the neoconservative movement. “Power corrupts” and all that…

    In any case, these posts deserve greater thought and a longer response….Report

  10. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    In a sad way, the popular incarnation of neo-conservatism became the very nihilism and moral relativism that it claimed to oppose

    By the way, love that word – nihilism – really jumped out at me! 🙂Report

  11. E.D. – that’s good to know. I assure you, I just chose it randomly; actually, that’s how I choose just about all of my words – randomly….after all, I don’t believe in anything so I really don’t have a point in any of my writing. I just type random words and letters and hope that they result in a coherent thought.Report

  12. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Heh. Careful what you say….they may be listening….

    I’m not paranoid or anything….Report

  13. But how do we know “they” even exist? How do we know existence exists?Report

  14. E.D., agreed, this is a long haul effort, something to be worked on over years and I’ve really only just started. But I did want to calrify one thing, as per this post, I’m not looking to replace realism with idealism, but rather find a useful blanace between the two in our analysis with regards to foreign policy, and in other areas.Report

  15. Avatar Dave says:

    By the way, love that word – nihilism – really jumped out at me!

    It’s a commonplace traits amongst back-patting, high-fiving nihilists in denial….ist. 🙂

    Seriously though, I kind of find the whole moral clarity thing amusing since neoconservatives are, at heart, big government social conservatives and they have the same typically woeful views on allowing democratic majorities to run roughshod simply on the basis of the majority rule. Not like libertarians have any moral clarity on what liberty means or anything like that.


  16. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    I’d say neocons are generally of two varieties – Big Government Social Cons, and Big Government Secular Cons – who share a hawkish vision of foreign policy.Report