Sunday, November 21, 2004Most of the variants of conservative ideology are primarily concerned with domestic politics. Neocons are different. They used to have a real concern with domestic politics, but in the last generation they have morphed into democratic imperialists. It is this sort of neoconservatism which I will discuss here.
I have described the neocons as democratic imperialists. This combination seems bizarre for good reason. Neocons see themselves as both champions of democracy and capitalism on the one hand, and of U.S. power on the other. Their model is the Cold War West: an alliance of prosperous democracies under U.S. hegemony.
Democratic imperialism happily combines U.S. security (and domination) with liberal ideals. They subscribe to the theory of the democratic peace, i.e. that democracies just don't fight with each other. Therefore if every country is a democracy, there will be no more war. In a world of free capitalist states the U.S. will inevitably be the dominant power because of its superior institutions. America will be an empire, but a benevolent one, and the world will prosper under a Pax Americana. So the triumph of liberal capitalism will also ensure permanent U.S. political, economic, and cultural leadership: the dream of every imperialist from time immemorial.
The method by which we will reach this utopia is U.S. power. America's military strength will both extend and preserve the "circle of freedom." Their model is postwar Germany and Japan, where U.S. occupation led to the establishment of wealthy democratic societies. According to Neocons, democracy can flow out of the barrel of a gun.
There is an implicit presumption that U.S. institutions, both political and economic, are not only superior to any other but are applicable anywhere. The U.S. has discovered the secret of combining civil peace, economic growth, and personal freedom. It is the historic mission of the U.S. to export this model everywhere.
Neoconservative theory is riddled with so many errors, delusions and fallacies it is hard to know where to start. The democratic peace is of course an untested theory, and the Neocons conflation of democracy and capitalism is troubling. There have been plenty of nondemocratic capitalist states, and they were very quick to fight wars with each other. More broadly, there are real tensions between free market capitalism and democracy, since unregulated the former tends to undermine the foundations of the latter. They also have a skewed theory of development economics: pure free trade is a disaster for a 3rd world economy, as they are unable to compete with superior and cheaper foreign goods.
The Neocons are undoubtedly chauvinists with regard to the superiority of U.S. institutions. There is every reason to believe that a world of democratic capitalist states would result in a relative decline of U.S. power as other states closed the economic gap. China would almost certainly be the new dominant power. And while I would agree that at our best America has made major contributions to the design of effective democratic institutions, you can't just project our system onto other nations. Japan and Germany are fallacious examples. They were advanced industrial states with a history of democracy anyway. All we did was nurture that development. We were hardly starting from scratch.
But the most foolhardy belief is that the U.S. can use it military power to advance both its hegemony and its ideas. If capitalism and democracy have an ambiguous relationship, democracy and imperialism are absolutely incompatible. Any U.S. action that smacks of imperialism will result in a backlash. Our motives will always be suspect. States will move in the opposite direction we wish, and are likely to form anti-U.S. coalitions in the face of overweening U.S. power. The neocons have forgotten that force begets not submission but only more force. The drive for hegemony is the usual cause of the fall of Great Powers. They are overextended, then exhausted, and finally overwhelmed.
Neoconservatism is a classic fool's paradise. It attempts to square the circle of preserving U.S. power and promoting U.S. ideals by wishing the tension away. It takes what is most wants to be true and pretends it is a reality. And worst of all, like it cousin libertarianism, the pursuit of its goals will not advance but undermine its aims. The logical outcome of neoconservative policy is not a free, peaceful world under a hegemonic U.S., but a poorer, violent globe with the U.S. weak and isolated, hated by the rest of the world. It will result not in the export of our democracy abroad but its erosion here at home.
All of which should make our current situation no surprise at all.