Saturday, November 18, 2006

Bush's Brain And Democracy: Myth-Busting, Pt. I

General Charles DeGaulle once accurately remarked of President Franklin Roosevelt, "He cloaks his will to power in idealism." DeGaulle didn't bother doing so, or rather, France was his cloak, and he took it as a matter of course that his will to power and France's were one and the same. No idealism or apology were required, and idealism itself bothered DeGaulle, who considered it a luxury good statecraft couldn't afford. He had a hard time figuring FDR out, so once he perceived that FDR indeed had a very large albeit subtle will to power, it must have relieved him, as I suspect the quote above conveys. Along with senses of cynicism and superiority. What might DeGaulle have said about George W. Bush?

As Bush trots the globe, we expect him at any point to variously make more stupid, arrogant, vapid, repetitive, offensive remarks. His handlers have, quite admirably, kept him in the box of senseless, automatic, democracy-advocating blather he naturally lapses into. Other than a few insensitive blunders about Vietnam, namely feeling the need to compare our war with it which killed 2 or 3 million of its inhabitants to Iraq. Hear the wise one on Iraq: "We will succeed as long as we don't quit." I guess he also meant that if we had just stayed in Vietnam longer and killed more people, we would've brought democracy there, too.

Oddly, if you go back in America's history, Bush's views on missionary democracy have quite a heritage and an eminent pedigree. They're not all that different from what Jefferson, Adams, and Woodrow Wilson espoused, and not all that different from the myths that most regular Americans have believed in: that democracy is the highest form of government, that states naturally want to become democracies, that it's the most superior form of government, and that everyone wants to live like Americans.
To Bush and many others, these myths are gospel, but to most everyone in the world they're conceited piles of crap, and it's not just Bush: the rest of the world has noted how much more pronounced, evangelical, and violent our belief in them has become. The sentiment itself is fine, and understandable, as John Quincy Adams (United States Secretary of State) summed up the restrained version of it in 1821:
“Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will America’s heart, her benedictions and her powers be. But she does not go abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. Rather she is the well wisher to the freedom and independence of all.”
Over time, America increasingly dispensed with the well-wishing and actively sought monsters to destroy abroad. This is not in line with American self-image, the interests of which have always been explicitly defined against expansion of power abroad for its won sake. And no other President, not even Wilson, was actually stupid enough to violently invade a country and franchise democracy at barrels of guns and blasts of bombs. I think DeGaulle would've found Bush to be an irrational, frightening, and dangerous creature indeed. He might've said, "Completely idealistic and fanatical...he cloaks his will to power in delusion."

Whatever we believe about our proud heritage, and it is indeed proud, we would do well to admit that it has limited applicability outside our own borders, and to question why we have some pretty deep problems inside our borders right now. We should resist automatic advocacies of American democracy. We should forbid trying to spread it as McDonald's would its franchises, not just because it would be a drag for everyone else to think and live like us, but because IT CAN'T BE DONE. Look at all the trouble we've caused, the trouble we're in now, for trying. Worse, we've been trying the way fanatical idealists try--by repeatedly using force, yet failing to impose their views onto the world of how it should be, and continuing to try in spite of all contrary feedback of how it is. Bush might as well be deaf and blind, too.

1 comment:

Still Life Living said...

"Democracy is the highest form of government, states naturally want to become democracies, it's the most superior form of government, and that everyone wants to live like Americans."

We have proof!! Milton Friedman (RIP) did the math!! (Unfortunately, the Babylonians invented math. Their problem is that they don't believe in preference theory.)