It is hard to imagine what the world of a conservative intellectual looked like in 1953. In our present age of talk radio (led by Rush Limbaugh), Fox News, national conservative magazines and blogs, and the New York-D.C. axis of Right-leaning think tanks, we regard the conservative movement as ubiquitous—and inextricably linked to politics and public policy.
This edition of Liberty Law Talk discusses with the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens his recent book, America in Retreat. Stephens argues that an America which declines to engage globally with its military is accepting a false promise of peace at the expense of rising disorder. The introduction chapter is entitled “The World’s Policeman” where Stephens quotes President Barack Obama’s proclamation in a 2013 speech: “We should not be the world’s policeman.” Similarly, Rand Paul states that “America’s mission should always be to keep the peace, not police the world.” “This book,” says Stephens, “is my response to that argument.” Our conversation focuses on…
Books reviewed in this essay:
Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy, by Barry R. Posen. Cornell University Press 2014
America In Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder, by Bret Stephens. Sentinel 2014
This generation’s U.S. foreign policy, resulting as it has in lost wars and almost universal disrespect for Americans, does not have many defenders.
Politicians and pundits of the Establishment Left, who made socioeconomic reform the hallmark of their foreign policy in the 1950s and 1960s, stopped advocating it in the 1980s—or any other means of supporting their remaining pretenses of global leadership. Whether they call themselves “internationalists” or “realists,” they are about reducing America’s power, and cover impotence with terms such as “multilateralism” and “leading from behind.”
Neoconservatives continue to support America’s primacy, as well as traditional geopolitical commitments including victory in the “war on terror.” They led the Bush administration into picking up “nation-building” as the Left was dropping it, became its last defenders, and were dragged into sharing the American people’s disdain for it. Now, neoconservatives are at a loss about how to square such means as they are willing to use with the grandiose ends they still advocate.
Angelo Codevilla comes to Liberty Law Talk to discuss his latest book To Make and Keep Peace Among Ourselves and with All Nations. Our conversation focuses on Codevilla’s main argument that American statesmen increasingly fail to understand the nature and purpose of statecraft: the achievement of peace. So what does it mean to achieve America’s peace? To do so, Codevilla insists, requires concrete evaluation of the means and ends necessary to protect American interests. This requires particular judgments about power, interests, and the practial reality we are confronted with. Our practice, for well nigh a century, has been to speak in…
The American people’s simplistic, self-contradictory demands are the reason for President Obama’s vacillations on foreign policy. Thus did Gerald Seib explain conventional wisdom.
A poll taken last week by NBC News and Seib’s publication, the Wall Street Journal, found that “respondents by a whopping 47 percent to 19 percent margin said the U.S. should be less active rather than more active in world affairs. At the same time, though, a majority said they want a president who shows a willingness to confront America’s enemies.”
James W. Ceaser, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia, has an excellent essay called “Four Heads and One Heart: The Modern Conservative Movement,” in his recently published Designing a Polity: America’s Constitution in Theory and Practice. I read it for this year’s Miller Summer Institute, sponsored by the Jack Miller Center, in partnership with the University of Virginia’s Program on Constitutionalism and Democracy.
It’s an eye-opening piece: Ceaser helped me understand both the unity and the disunity of the right, its agreements and its squabbles. First, the agreement: It’s found in conservatism’s one heart, a heart that hates liberalism. A common “antipathy to liberalism” unites conservatives, not shared intellectual principles.
In today’s America, there are two conventional ways of understanding Leo Strauss’s ideas. These two perspectives, predictably, reflect the opposite poles of the established political spectrum. On the Left, critics have portrayed Strauss, a German-Jewish émigré who escaped the rising tide of Nazism in Germany, as an enemy of liberal democracy who built a vast intellectual movement in the United States in order to foster a right-wing agenda that is devoted to sexism, class hierarchy, and fascist wars of conquest. Shadia Drury’s The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss (1988) was only the first volley that leftist opponents have leveled against Strauss. Leftists like Stephen Holmes, Nicholas Xenos, and William Altman have continued to portray Strauss as an evil elitist bent on creating a Platonic regime that would feed “noble lies” to the ignorant masses in order to cajole them into embracing perpetual war against the forces of social progress.
On the Right, Strauss’s numerous disciples and neoconservative fellow travelers insist that their master was a sincere defender of the democratic regime and the liberal ideals of freedom and equality. These supporters, who are usually either his students or students of his students, contend that Strauss was a supporter of a classical liberal tradition that is now facing deadly threats from the Left. This kinder, gentler version of Strauss can be easily found in the writings of Thomas Pangle, Michael and Catherine Zuckert, Harry Jaffa, and Peter Minowitz, all of whom insist that this quiet, reserved teacher of the “Great Works” of political philosophy sincerely admired Anglo-American democracy, celebrated Lincoln and Churchill as stalwart defenders of liberty, and viscerally opposed Nazism and Communism as grave threats to western civilization. In their view, the best evidence for Strauss’s democratic credentials comes from his lifelong opposition to noxious ideas like “historicism” and “relativism” that fail to distinguish the virtues of democracy from the vices of tyranny.