October 4, 2007

Can't "see" what's right in front of him...

I was thinking of fisking this piece, Delusion of Exceptionalism, by Paul Campos, October 2, 2007, Rocky Mountain News. (Thanks to Orrin.) It's full of slippery arguments and logic flaws I'd enjoy shining a spotlight on. But what's much more interesting to me is that he never lays a glove on the kinds of argument that he is criticizing, because, I suspect, he is incapable of even "seeing" them. He has a blind spot...

...But his view is shared by legions of liberal hawks, who five years ago lined up behind President Bush's proposed invasion like so many well-trained parrots, thus providing crucial political cover for the extraordinary decision to invade a nation that no rational person believed posed a real threat to the United States.

Consider the words of The Washington Post's Richard Cohen: "The Iraq war is not the product of oil avarice, or CIA evil, but of a surfeit of altruism, a naive compulsion to do good. That entire collection of neo- and retro-conservatives - George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and particularly Paul Wolfowitz - made war not for oil or for empire. This is why so many liberals, myself included, originally supported the war. It engaged us emotionally. It seemed . . . well, right - a just cause."

The irony is that Cohen is on one level correct. I have no doubt that both the neo-cons and their liberal hawk enablers believe that their devotion to neo-imperialism is based not on the crass considerations that have always driven international politics, i.e., power and money, but on a virtuous urge to use whatever means were necessary to bring what Mark Twain referred to as The Person Sitting in Darkness into the light of freedom, democracy, etc., etc.

That every imperial power since the dawn of time has claimed exactly the same thing has not the slightest effect on this touching faith in the purity of our own motives.

Similarly, it never gives the nationalist pause that he would burst into incredulous laughter if he were to hear a citizen of any other country make such claims.

The American nationalist believes that, in the words of Michael Cohen of the "liberal" blog Democracy Arsenal, America is "inherently good," and that therefore our imperialist adventures have nothing in common with those of other great powers....

When people say that America is "inherently good," they are usually making the very opposite of a nationalist claim. They are NOT saying, as a nationalist would, that America is valued as a piece of ground, or a race, or a volk, or for its military conquests. Rather, America is really a set of ideas, good ideas, and those ideas are transferable, including transferable to other nations. And those nations could become as "good" as us by adopting these ideas. That's the opposite of nationalism.

We actually see this "transferability" every day, in the way we assume that immigrants can come from everywhere and become Americans. If you "get" our ideas, then you are an American. Professor Campos would not consider it bizarre if someone who immigrated from Bormenia ten years ago were to proudly say that "We Americans are inherently good." (He would hate the sentiment, I assume. But he wouldn't think it was crazy for a newcomer to consider himself American.)

From the earliest days some Americans have argued that we should practice an idealistic foreign policy designed to transfer our ideas to other places. But this has traditionally been a liberal idea. We are all proud to have helped bring democracy and human rights to countries like Japan and Germany and Italy. But it was liberals like FDR and Truman who were behind this sort of policy, and conservatives who tended to say we should not meddle.

Now I assume that Profesor Campos is somewhere on the left/liberal/progressive side of politics. Yet he seems to find this great liberal idea incomprehensible. It's not just that he opposes it—some Americans have done that all through our history. It's that he can't even "see" the idea that is fascinating to me.

This is just one more scrap of evidence for my oft-argued thesis that most "liberals" are now nihilists. That the ideas that once underlay liberalism have leached away, and that they are wearing liberalism much like the Invisible Man wore clothes and bandages to cover up his nothingness... And that the Iraq Campaign has them foaming at the mouth precisely because it is a liberal project, and thus shines a spotlight on what leftists have become...

Posted by John Weidner at October 4, 2007 9:42 AM
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