December 16, 2007
Jonah Goldberg’s critique of the Paul campaign – published in the dead-tree version of National Review—is surprisingly respectful, but, alas, he gets several things wrong: heck, he gets just about everything wrong. But then, if he didn’t, he’d be in the Paul camp, and probably wouldn’t be Jonah Goldberg. At any rate, whereas Paul’s leftist critics concentrate primarily although not exclusively on his domestic agenda – less government, more personal liberty – Goldberg takes issue with Paul’s foreign policy, which he insists is “today called "isolationism.”
Well, uh, no it isn’t – unless it’s by some neocon who wants to typify a worldview based on peace and non-intervention as the invention of sclerotic Neanderthals who live in a metaphorical cave. What Paul clearly advocates is a policy of trading, not invading – a policy that can fairly be called non-interventionist, or even anti-interventionist, but which is hardly “isolationist,” as Paul himself explains.
Goldberg writes about the historic split on the Right over the issue of the cold war, and whether such an extended engagement required the postponement of the fight against statism at home. He quotes William F. Buckley, Jr.’s infamous 1952 Commonweal piece, albeit incompletely, leaving out the part about how we have to accept “a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores” and “war production boards and the attendant centralization of power in Washington.” I guess, what with the PATRIOT Act, the Military Commissions Act, and the burgeoning surveillance state, such phrasing is a bit too close to the reality to be acknowledged.
Goldberg cites Paul’s evocation of Robert A. Taft, and avers that even Taft supported the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and support to Formosa. Yet in reality Taft led a Republican effort to drastically cut funding for the Marshall Plan, and he openly challenged the Truman Doctrine, opposing efforts to interfere in the internal politics of Czechoslovakia, and voted for the appropriations requested by the President, in the end, only because he didn’t want to tie his hands at the negotiating table. In any case, the real point of Paul raising Taft’s name is on account of the Taft wing of the GOP, especially in the House of Representatives, which stoutly resisted both the Truman Doctrine and the pernicious idea of collective security that was its underpinning. Taft himself was a famous waffler, yet his followers, such as Reps. Howard Buffet (R-Nebraska) and George H. Bender (R-Ohio) were unrelenting in their opposition to the whole foreign policy of the interventionist liberals, who were using anti-Communism to shovel foreign aid to Europe – and, as far as they were concerned, down a rathole.
Goldberg ruminates on the historical debate, for a while, albeit inaccurately, but with an obviously sincere desire to engage the libertarian arguments, and then gets down to the nitty-gritty, as it were:
“There has always been a pacifist strain to libertarian domestic policy (government is violence). Why should foreign policy be different? One answer might be: because it is different. The international arena simply isn’t a liberal polity where concepts such as contracts and property rights apply as they do in, say, Cleveland. To treat the world as just another sphere of liberalism is a category error.”
The idea that foreign policy can be walled off from domestic policy is nonsense. They are inextricably intertwined. One cannot but agree with Goldberg that we’re not in Kansas anymore once we step outside the Western sphere—which is precisely why we cannot extend the American polity to, say, a place like Iraq: because it isn’t and cannot be a liberal polity, and any attempt to force it into that Procrustean bed will only result in much pain, as much to ourselves as to our unfortunate client.
Elsewhere Goldberg says we must intervene to keep the free flow of trade going – and yet, how are we to do that, by imposing economic sanctions on, say, Iran? By encircling Russia? Furthermore, it does not benefit us to subsidize gigantic international corporations by protecting their investments in foreign lands: if they are foolish enough to buy oil and natural gas rights in, say, Turkmenistan, a country that neither knows nor recognizes such uniquely Western concepts as property rights and the rule of law, then that is their problem, and not one for the American taxpayers – or American soldiers under arms – to solve for them.
Goldberg’s argument gets really threadbare, however, when he tries to undermine the obvious connection between war and the centralized state:
“The case that intervention abroad naturally leads to the curtailment of liberty at home is less ironclad than even most conservatives, never mind libertarians, might think. Manchester liberalism arose in the British Empire. The Corn Laws were repealed in 1846. Exactly 100 years later, the National Health Service was born not from empire but from its ashes. In America, women got the vote in the aftermath of World War I, and the Army was integrated by the ‘butcher of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.’ The Civil Rights Acts were passed during Vietnam. Ronald Reagan liberalized the economy while increasing spending on defense, and Bill Clinton reinvigorated government with the proceeds from the alleged ‘peace dividend. Oh, and for the record: Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises—who reportedly share space with Rothbard on Paul’s wall—were subjects of the Hapsburgs.”
To begin with, classical liberalism arose in the heyday of the British Empire precisely because the Manchesterites opposed imperialism and devoutly wished for a “Little England” bereft of the burden of overseas possessions that drained the Treasury and meant endless wars. What Goldberg calls “Paulism,” too, arises just as the American version of the Anglo-Saxon Imperium is taking shape before our eyes – the former is a reaction to the latter. The advocates of the repeal of the Corn Laws were principled anti-imperialists, as well as free traders: the empire predated them by a few hundred years. The national health service was indeed born from the ashes of a defeated and thoroughly transformed liberalism – i.e. state socialism, which was ushered in as the sun finally set on the British empire.
I don’t know what the integration of the army has to do with Goldberg’s larger point: was the slaughter of millions and the destruction of so much productive capital really the only way to accomplish this? I tend to doubt it. Ditto for the Civil Rights Act, the passage of which has little to do with the Vietnam war. Yes, we never did see that “peace dividend” – and, if Goldberg and his confreres have their way, we never will. I won’t bother to address the alleged anomaly that Goldberg finds in the fact that both Mises and Hayek lived under the Hapsburgs, except to note that Rothbard lived under the rule of Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, and Bush I – and so what?
Goldberg asks: “Does ‘empire’ really cost too much?” Is $2 trillion too much to pay for the Iraq war? Well, no, not if you’re Halliburton, Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, et al. Yes, if you’re the average American taxpayer. Which brings us to Goldberg’s contention that “As Walter Russell Mead and Niall Ferguson have argued, maintaining global trade and stability worked to Britain’s advantage—and, now, works to ours” Yet we have not achieved stability, on account of our interventionist policies – quite the opposite. And this has disrupted global trade, not sustained it. “Empire’s moral costs,” avers Goldberg, “are also murkier than Paul thinks. Thwarting the Nazis and Communists came at a bloody price, as will, undoubtedly, any sustained effort against bin Ladenism. But let’s not concede the moral high ground to those who would not take up such fights.”
Here we get to the really absurd aspect of the neoconservative foreign policy, which equates bin Laden’s ragtag army of insurgents with the military might of the Third Reich and the Kremlin at the height of its power. Hitler had the Wehrmacht, Stalin had nuclear weapons: what does bin Laden have – a couple of box-cutters and fanatics willing to die for the cause? There is no comparison.
“Finally,” ask Goldberg,
“Is America an empire at all? It certainly isn’t in the sense that Rome was. Our foreign garrisons are there by invitation and negotiation; we’ll pull them out if asked, as we did in the Philippines. Some scholars argue that America is merely the leader of a "liberal hegemony." Mead and Ferguson say America is a ‘liberal empire.’ Whatever the right term, it is slanderous to lump us in with Huns, Nazis, and Communists.”
Well, no, we aren’t like Rome, which plundered its colonies and exacted tribute: in the American Empire, the flow of cash goes in the other direction—our client states exact tribute from us. As Garet Garrettr, the Old Right’s Cassandra, trenchantly pointed out: “Everything goes out, and nothing comes in.” Nothing but demands for more, that is.
No one equates the American empire with that of the Huns or the Nazis. These were two outbursts of pure barbarism, and neither, in any case, lasted very long, precisely for that reason: their own evil led to their military defeat, and—left to their own
devices—would have caused them to explode from internal pressures. The same thing happened to the Communists, except their malevolence was more systematic, and painted with an altruistic-egalitarian veneer. They, too, murdered millions, and yet the commissars were different from the Huns, and the Nazis, in that the Communist narrative spoke in the name of humanitarian idealism, instead of speaking the language of pure power and sadistic cruelty.
In this sense, it is not “slanderous” to equate the Communist and neoconservative ideologies, which both gave birth to strategies for world “liberation.” Of course, the neocons’ goals are invested in a desire for a “benevolent world hegemony,” while the Communist goal of world domination was indicative of “totalitarianism.” When the latter were fighting the Afghan rebels – the very same gang that morphed into Al Qaeda – the Kremlin propagandists hailed their “achievements” in “liberating” women, setting up schools, and creating a modern state in place of the wild array of warring tribes we call Afghanistan. We are simply taking up where the Soviets left off.
Our neoconized foreign policy is the fun-house mirror image of Leninist internationalism: or, perhaps, it is the Bizarro World version. This is reflected not only in the rhetoric employed in defense of interventionist policies but also in the disastrous results. The Soviet empire, badly overextended, and ridiculously costly to maintain, met its end in the mountains of Afghanistan, fighting an endless war against a guerrilla insurgency fighting on its home turf, in defense of a way of life that predated the Bolshevik Revolution by more than a thousand years. So, too, will we meet a similar end, unless we take to heart the wise counsel of Rep. Paul (and his counterparts in the Democratic party, such as Dennis Kucinich).
“Buckley was right in 1952,” says Goldberg:
“Much ‘hard thinking’ was required of conservatives. And it is required of us again. So it’s good news that Paul is running. Alas, too many conservatives dismiss him out of hand rather than engage him. The Rothbard-Paul vision was rightly defeated during the Cold War. Now that the Cold War is over, it seems not only fair but wise to give it another hearing—and if it can’t be defeated on the merits, it deserves to win.”
The “Rothbard-Paul” vision, far from being defeated, was vindicated by the sudden and total implosion of the Leninist project: Rothbard’s teacher and mentor, Ludwig von Mises [.pdf file], had confidently predicted the collapse of Communism in the mid-1920s: since prices were absent from the socialist economic mechanism, there was no way to know where to allocate scarce resources: this meant the Soviet economy would either revert to capitalism, or else come to a grinding, screeching halt. We know what happened: first came the grinding, screeching halt, followed shortly by the reversion.
The point is that Soviet Communism was not destroyed by a military assault: there was no “rollback,” as the Buckleyites of the 1950s and 60s dreamed – the system rolled itself back. Soviet society was destroyed from within. It wasn’t toppled by the West, but by its own internal contradictions.
Buckley was wrong. And we have paid a high price for his error, which was hardly his alone. The “totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores” has not withered with the end of the cold war: instead, it has strengthened its grip on power, until our Constitution is a dead letter and the foundations of our old Republic are radically undermined.
The legacy of the cold war, and the mutant form of “conservatism” it birthed, is a need for endless enemies, an institutional craving for a militant adversary whose threat to our way of life provides income, power, perks and privileges for the new New Class: the administrators and corporate beneficiaries of our global presence, including the worldwide network of military bases in 130 countries, and our newly-acquired Mesopotamian protectorate.
Goldberg has to take Ron Paul seriously, because conservatives are deserting the War Party in droves, and especially the younger generation of rightists, who have made Paul’s cause their own: next to the GOP “presidential” line-up of braying warmongers, sanctimonious phonies, and flip-flopping opportunists, the unassuming, non-telegenic country doctor from the Gulf Coast of Texas is a giant amongst pygmies, the only truly serious and principled person of the bunch.
Goldberg, by the way, has demurred in the face of his magazine’s endorsement of Mitt Romney, and seems unwilling, at this point, to endorse anyone. He recognizes, albeit only obliquely, that the conservative movement is intellectually bankrupt, and politically at a dead end. Yes, the Rothbard-Paul vision deserves to win, but in an important sense it has already won, although it may take a while for the intellectual victory to exert its full political effect.
Ron Paul’s success defies the old orthodoxies, and it’s no wonder they’re putting up a defense, however weak and self-serving it may be. The neocon vision of a world dominated by an Ameican hegemon, centered in Washington, D.C, is dashed on the rocks of reality – it’s in the same dustbin of history that Trotskyism was tossed into.
The anti-Paul Popular Front extends all the way from National Review to the International Socialist Review (make sure you read my piece in antiwar.com on the left-wing critics of Paul): it’s a grand coalition of right-wing “former” Trotskyists and currently-practicing left-wing Trotskyists. These are apparently the bounds of the politically permissible: all else is “ultra-leftism” and “right-wing extremism.”