February 07, 2007

Well, the responses have begun to come in to our newly-launched site, and we are deeply gratified at the number of positive comments we have received”€”not ALL of them from Taki’s friends in the Vendee. It’s apparent that the range of debate on the Right has been artificially narrowed for far too long, and that many thoughtful conservatives crave an honest debate on the future of their political tendency (as a “€œMovement”€ it is almost already dead). Entailed in such a debate must be questions of U.S. involvement in the quarrels of other countries, the proper limits of American foreign policy, the real meaning of conservatism, the goals of conservative social and political activism, and the prudent use of our limited national resources. None of these questions have been much considered, in the fevered wake of 2001; in many ways, opinion leaders on the Right have neglected these vital questions by repeating ad nauseam the thought-ending mantra, “€œFor the love of God, don”€™t you know we”€™re at WAR?”€ Invoked as often and as inappropriately as the sheep-bleat in Orwell’s Animal Farm: “€œFour legs good, two legs bad!,”€ this phrase has numbed the brains and pumped the adrenal glands of too many Americans for far too long. It is time to step back, think, and ask skeptical questions.

As others have reflected, for neoconservatives, the year is always 1938, and the moment always Munich. Indeed, that was a deplorable moment for the West, but it was not the only dark instance in which leaders made foolish and irresponsible decisions. Think of August 1914, for instance.

The French and British leaders who caved in to Adolf Hitler’s expansionism at that meeting were engaged in much the same mindless, Pavlovian behavior as contemporary conservatives, albeit in a different direction; traumatized by the experience of World War I, they were desperate to avoid or postpone war, at almost any cost. They were frozen in a previous historical moment”€”in the memory of August 1914, when leaders irresponsibly galloped forth into a cataclysm which largely destroyed Western civilization. We have yet to recover. We may never recover. So when they were faced with a new crisis, the leaders of the West’s free nations responded not with careful consideration, but an ideological twitch.

Political and opinion leaders today (particularly, but not exclusively, on the Right) examining the question of Iranian nuclear proliferation are making the same kind of mistake, but in the opposite direction. For Neville Chamberlain, the moment was always August 1914, the danger always that too much firmness might lead to a needless war. Today, neoconservatives and Jacksonian nationalists are trapped in a different historical moment, of course. But they are making the same kind of mistake: Their eyes glued to an image of the distant (and poorly understood) past, they do not respond but react. As Chamberlain was desperate to avoid the errors of 1914, so Bush and his acolytes are transfixed by the errors of 1938. Like Chamberlain, they ignore the realities of the present, and live in the past, like children of alcoholics who somehow, always, manage to end up marrying… alcoholics.  By re-enacting the past in the present, they hope to “€œfix”€ the events of long ago”€”and blunder into a whole new series of irrational decisions. That was what got America into Iraq in 2003. Let us pray that the cycle can be broken.


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