Our friend DAvid Habbakuk writes from England to comment on my "Foreign Policy" piece. pl
This is a brilliant piece: the argument about the roots of neoconservative success in widely held beliefs makes it an invaluable extension of the argument of the Drinking the Kool-Aid paper.
The argument that precisely because of its ethnic diversity the United States not only was but had to be held together by an ‘American creed’ based upon the notion of the equality was put forward by the English Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton back in 1922. An extract is online at http://www.libertynet.org/edcivic/chestame.html. If then the notion of equality becomes conflated with that of identity – and this is already hinted at in Tocqueville – one may end up on the horns of a dilemma. It may be that the beliefs which hold the United States together also make it difficult to – in Colonel Lang’s words – ‘deal with alien peoples on their own terms, and within their own traditions’, and tend to create a propensity to ignore reality in favour of the ‘dream versions’ to which he refers. This was hardly a problem in 1831 or 1922, but becomes a major one if the United States is attempting to be a hegemonic power in the world system – and particularly if in so doing it relies heavily upon military force.
The argument of Colonel Lang’s paper would also seem to suggest that, in exploring the questions about intelligence raised in his earlier ‘Bureaucrats and Artists …’ paper, one needs to look further at the roots of ideological blinkers created by ideology: our own, as well as that of those we attempt to interpret. This problem gets greater the closer one gets to government, because political leaders necessarily must talk in terms of ideological simplicities.
An article by Michael Vlahos in The American Conservative deals with some related matters – online http://www.amconmag.com/2007/2007_02_12/feature.html: although I rather feel that the sharp distinction he uses between modern and non-modern is part of the problem. It tends to lead to a view of everyone outside the bright lights of Western ‘modernity’ as hopelessly atavistic and thus essentially threatening; as well as a propensity grossly to exaggerate the extent to which our own societies actually fit the stereotypes of ‘modernity’.
Some excerpts from Chesterton – who was of course writing before the advent of ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘political correctness’:
“America is the only nation in the world that is founded on creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just ……
“Now a creed is at once the broadest and the narrowest thing in the world. In its nature it is as broad as its scheme for a brotherhood of all men. In its nature it is limited by its definition of the nature of all men. This was true of the Christian Church, which was truly said to exclude neither Jew nor Greek, but which did definitely substitute something else for Jewish religion or Greek philosophy. It was truly said to be a net drawing in of all kinds; but a net of a certain pattern, the pattern of Peter the Fisherman. And this is true even of the most disastrous distortions or degradations of that creed; and true among others of the Spanish Inquisition. It may have been narrow about theology, it could not confess to being narrow about nationality or ethnology …
“Now in a much vaguer and more evolutionary fashion, there is something of the same idea at the back of the great American experiment; the experiment of a democracy of diverse races which has been compared to a melting-pot. But even that metaphor implies that the pot itself is of a certain shape and a certain substance; a pretty solid substance. The melting-pot must not melt. The original shape was traced on the lines of Jeffersonian democracy; and it will remain in that shape until it becomes shapeless. America invites all men to become citizens; but it implies the dogma that there is such a thing as citizenship ….
“When we realize the democratic design of such a cosmopolitan commonwealth, and compare it with our insular reliance or instincts, we see at once why such a thing has to be not only democratic but dogmatic. We see why in some points it tends to be inquisitive or intolerant….
“This idea is not internationalism; on the contrary it is decidedly nationalism. The Americans are very patriotic, and wish to make their new citizens patriotic Americans. But it is the idea of making a new nation literally out of any old nation that comes along. In a word, what is unique is not America but what is called Americanization. And the process, as I have pointed out, is not internationalization. It would be truer to say it is the nationalization of the internationalized. It is making a home out of vagabonds and a nation out of exiles …
“.. the idealism of America, we may safely say, still revolves entirely round the citizen and his romance. The realities are quite another matter, and we shall consider in its place the question of whether the ideal will be able to shape the realities or will merely be beaten shapeless by them ….”"