May 09, 2008

A Neoconservative Categorical Imperative

Kant famously tested any moral precept by his categorical imperative:  “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”  Neoconservatives act in foreign policy according to something of a categorical imperative too:  “Act only according to that maxim whereby your foreign policy principles would have obliged a preventative war against Nazi Germany before September 1, 1939.”  Thus, the neoconservatives champion wars to prevent wars, wars to vindicate the human rights of ethnic and religious minorities, and wars simply to assert America’s benevolent hegemony anywhere and everywhere. 

Of course, this is problematic.  Any such principle would also have demanded war against Soviet Russia in the 1920s, not to mention Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.  We know in the cases of the latter, that communism eventually fell without recourse to a third world war.

Worse still, under this view, the neoconservatives should have little negative to say about the Vietnam War, a noble (if doomed) effort to protect a reasonably pro-American democracy with whom we had a treaty from Soviet Communism and its North Vietnamese proxies.  As everyone knows, most neoconservatives themselves moved heaven and earth to avoid the Vietnam draft during the 1960s and early 1970s.  Indeed, most neoconservatives spoke at the time against it and served in lower numbers than Americans at large

Heck, in spite of their famous love for Israel, most neoconservatives haven’t even served in its armed forces, as some American Jews do out of romantic attachment to the land of their coreligionists.  

Neoconservative foreign policy, in spite of its pretentsions of idealism and consistency, appears as results-oriented and ad hoc as that of the much maligned realists.  Worse still, it’s a highly moralistic categorical imperative that seems to have no impact on how the neoconservatives themselves live their lives.  They’re the “whiskey priests” of American military action.

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