Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Neocons, Democracy, and [un]Realpolitik

"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all Men are created equal…"

Who did they think they were kidding? All men, to say nothing of women, aren’t created equal: Brad Pitt is better looking than me, Arnold Schwarzenegger is stronger than me, and my older brother is smarter than me. A lot smarter. We three are in no way created equal. What a bunch a bilge.. right?

Of course not. That isn’t what that sentence fragment means at all. The stated principle at the beginning of that most important document in history concerns not outcomes — strength, beauty, smarts — but opportunities and aspirations. Everyone is equal in the sense of having an equal right to aspire to whatever greatness their unequal gifts allow them to achieve and the state’s duty is to protect their equal opportunity to do so. Thus everyone is equal before the law, equal in being able to freely speak their mind, equal in the weight of their vote and their freedom to cast it according to their conscience. Equal, in the words of the rest of that sentence, in their "inalienable rights" to "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

What has this got to do with neocons, realpolitik, and the thing I’m always harping on — foreign policy? Well, quite a lot. You see, I just read this in a Mark Steyn article quoting George Will:

"The idea, a tenet of neoconservatism, is that all nations are more or less ready for democracy."

Apparently, some people, possibly including Will, think this is ludicrous. Zev Chafets of the NY Daily News, certainly does, as he wrote and article entitled: "Bush's Wrong -- Freedom Can't Grow in Iraqi Soil". But I am here not interested in presenting a fisking of either article. I know neocons are widely derided on the both the Left and the Right for living in a sort of belligerent fantasy land. The people on the Right who do this are of the Realpolitik school. [The people on the Left are generally of the Moonbat school.] Realpolitik, which is hard-nosed and no-nonsense, which prides itself on its clear vision and foreign-policy realism, hold that democracy is a highly developed form of political art that not everyone can grasp. They are skeptical of "nation-building" among the underdeveloped, the insufficiently evolved. Nor to they think it always necessary for a reasonable and robust foreign policy. For these arguments, they appear to have a lot of history on their side.

Well, I wonder. I wonder because my best friend grew up in a realpolitik household. She was told she couldn’t go to college because she was a girl with a certain family heritage from a particular socioeconomic group. She would have to support herself, she was sternly warned, and for a girl with her background supporting herself meant beauty college. To these hard-nosed clear-eyed realists, girls like her couldn’t support themselves by getting engineering degrees, by studying medicine or law, history or physics. This is because, you see, all people are not created equal — some are underdeveloped or insufficiently evolved and cannot grasp things like law, medicine, engineering, physics or anything beyond beauty college.

So my friend went to beauty college, graduated, and became trapped in a series of marginal jobs that barely supported a marginal living. A some years later she tried to go to college. She failed. The realists, you see, have a lot of history on their side.

I’m going to try to put this as politely as I can: Bullshit. My friend is back in college and she is succeeding because she’s now getting what was denied to her before — some decent support and an appropriate degree of investment.

So I ask, what is true about my friend that isn’t true about Iraq, or any other country? Like people, countries are diverse and unequal in their capabilities. Like people, some will fail. But by what logic do we deny the principle that these nations have the same right to aspire to liberty and justice for all that we grant to ourselves?

The genius of the Declaration of Independence is that it removed the State as the arbiter of who could aspire to what; of which opportunities would be extended to which people and denied to which other people. It said the State had a duty to protect everyone’s right to aspire equally, and a duty a invest in a social system that encouraged the aspirations of all and protect the rights of all, not just of a chosen few.

The Realpolitik point of view seems to me to recapitulate the very attitudes that our Founders were rebelling against: that constituted authority knew best who was worthy and to what degree. Our founders denied that governments had such wisdom and left the question of to be decided by the trial of individuals on a field that government was to make as level as it could.

For good or ill, we are at this moment the only global power, to set up or cast down or forebear as we see fit, and what is true of people is true of nations. So it seems to me that with these words:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

our Founders were making perhaps the perfect neocon statement. And thus it turns that out that it is the neocons, not the so-called realists, who a lot of history on their side.