Monday, October 04, 2004

WHAT I DO NOT LIKE ABOUT BUSH: Part 1, The War in Iraq

I am a classical conservative. Among the things that label means is that I am not a neo-conservative. Of course there areas where my views and those of neo-conservatives cross over so the neos and the classicals are often -- and rightly so -- fellow travelers.

So what do I mean by "classical conservative?" Three quotes capture the heart of my philosophy:

"The central insight of conservatism is that culture precedes politics." Daniel Patrick Moynihan

"Conservatism is not an ideology -- it is the rejection of ideology." Russell Kirk

"All government, indeed, every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter." Edmund Burke

Each of these statements offer rationale for my rejection of neo-conservatism. Some have called neo-conservatives Wilsonians on steroids. They share the same impulse to spread democracy around the world that Wilson had. They add to this impulse a greater wilingness to use American military power to do so. It is one of the ironies of history that some Republicans now hold this view. This used to be the purview of the pre-McGovern Democrats. When I was a kid my dad used to say that he wasn't a democrat because they always started wars. His armchair view was shaped by his experience of Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Johnson -- they all held to interventionism for the cause of world democracy.

Neo-conservatism violates the ideas stated above. The violations can be seen in the war in Iraq. First, a classical conservatise does not think democracy can be birthed by short term political processes. Democracy is rooted in culture. The roots of Amnerican democracy grew through the ancient Hebrews, Greeks/Romans, Medieval Europe, and especially the English tradition of common law. Centuries of incremental cultural development led to our republic.

Second, neoconservatism turns some conservative impulses into ideology. Take the idea of freedom. I agree that it is a human impulse and a good thing. But to turn one model of freedom into an absolute and approach the spreading of freedom as simply the result of constructing a constitution -- while ignoring human nature and history -- is what ideologists did all through the 20th century.

Regarding the Iraq War, I believe given what was known in March 2003 it was right to invade. US and International security was at risk -- had been since 1990 -- and had to be dealt with. I do agree with William F. Buckley jr. that if we knew then what we know now we should not have attacked, but one cannot turn back the clock. I find the rationale of the Micheal Moore's and the Howards Dean's that the invasion was a lie, deception and fraud sophmoric at best. Regarding the claims of Kerry -- he is trying to win an election, so of course he has to shape himself differently than Bush. But he saw the same info as Bush, the Pentagon, the State Dept., the UN, the British, etc. and voted for the war.

Where I strongly disagree with the Bush policy is not in its approach of widening the War on terror but in shaping it as a war to spread democracy. This makes it an ideological war. As a classical conservative I do not believe in ideological wars. We should wage war to secure our national interests and stimulate international security. We should be guided by moral considerations and not be utilitarian about our decision making, but there are limits to what we can do and so there must be limits to the goals we set.

I will vote for Bush because the natural home for classical conseratives is the Republican party. But not all Republicans are classical conseratives (obviously). If the democratic party somehow shifted in the coming years and became the natural place for classical conservatives I would gladly switch parties. Parties are practical arrangements designed to build governing coalitions. Philosophy comes first -- party comes second.

Next installment: WHAT I DO NOT LIKE ABOUT BUSH: Part 2, Economic Policy

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