Thursday, February 23, 2006

Neoconservative idealism

Francis Fukuyama's wonderful article in a recent NY Times Magazine,, gives a succint overview of the intellectual roots of neoconservatism and discusses their idealistic thinking in advocating the Iraq War.

I have some difficulty with terming the neoconservative agenda "idealistic, as Fukuyama does. Idealism is generally thought to be benign, a posture of directly seeking the good because that's the right thing to do. The friendly critique of idealism is that it ignores reality, and in doing so leads to bad results; the unfriendly is that conceptualizing and pursuing the good is not worth doing, either because there is no such thing as the good, or the pursuit inevitable ends badly.

The so-called idealism of the neocons, though, is not exactly a pursuit of the good for its own sake. Whether to preserve access to oil, or safeguard Israel, or foreclose a base for terrorism, or revenge Bush's father, there were more dominant motivations for invading Iraq than an abstract idea that getting rid of the evil dictator would be a good thing to do. It isn't very pure, that is, and it serves more as a fig leaf for baser motives than as anything important in itself. Since the neocons are themselves far from naive people, I assume they know this as well as anyone else. In other words, the use of the term "idealism" to characterize their argument is an unwarranted rhetorical cleansing of what they were actually doing.

That said, I was delighted with Fukuyama's intellectual history, and especially with this gem:
""The End of History," in other words, presented a kind of Marxist argument for the existence of a long-term process of social evolution, but one that terminates in liberal democracy rather than communism. In the formulation of the scholar Ken Jowitt, the neoconservative position articulated by people like Kristol and Kagan was, by contrast, Leninist; they believed that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will. Leninism was a tragedy in its Bolshevik version, and it has returned as farce when practiced by the United States. Neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support."

No comments:

Post a Comment