When I was a young man, the most powerful people in America tended to tell themselves a lie: Our great and increasing power was an unequivocal blessing for the world. Now, I observe that Ned Lamont types tell themselves a lie that is simply an inversion of the old lie: Our even greater and still increasing power is an unmitigated source of evil in the world.
There is a big difference between Henry Luce (a great propagandist of the old lie) and George Soros (a financer of the propaganda machine of the new lie), but on one score they are very similar. Both pay themselves the compliment of thinking that the country in which they exercise the most power holds the magical key to good and evil.
There is a difference, though. The self-delusions of Henry Luce were defeated by our relative impotence in the face of human evil, ignorance, and love of violence. Some modest things were achieved. Some bad policies did more harm than good. I'm fairly sure that George Bush's overly fine rhetoric of solving our global problems by spreading freedom and democracy will suffer the same mixed fate. Some good may emerge, but without doubt some aspects of our geopolitical strategies will exacerbate rather than solve problems, and we will, in fact, make some enemies. But on the whole, our collective human investment in evil, and not our unique American military, economic, and cultural power, will defeat self-delusion. Most of our enemies will come from the traditional sources: lust for domination, envy, pride, anger, and a perverse romance with the power of death.
But what of self-delusions of the new lie, the notion that our problems-the global problems-are a result of our power and our will to use it? If George Bush tends toward idealistic overreach, the Soros fantasy that we create our own enemies will tend toward pessimistic under-reach. If our power is the source of the problem, then we need to become less powerful. If our readiness to attack aggressors creates enemies, then we get rid of them by being less ready. Or so the new lie reasons.
Therein lies the danger, for it is not just the fantasy that is vulnerable to human reality and the persistence of evil; a society that morally, politically, and culturally disarms risks going down to defeat with its self-delusion. We see this already happening in Europe.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the emergent conservative populism that has redefined national politics. I observed that the ordinary man on the street in Des Moines does not trust East Coast elites to protect and serve the common good. I made that point with reference to our culture and our fabric of civility, self-discipline, and moral standards ever more thinned by contemptuous elite patronage of transgression.
Now I make the point again, but this time with reference to the physical security of that same man on the street. Guys in pickups are not stupid. They can see that if a politician or pundit believes that American power and will to self-defense creates the most virulent forms of global evil, then that same person will advocate reducing American power and weakening our will to self-defense-in order (the same politicians and pundits will argue) to solve global problems and make America safe. The guys in pickups can also see that this is an extremely risky line of reasoning. For if wrong, a paradoxical policy of weakness for the sake of strength will leave the field open to the bad folks who refuse to be romanced by our goodwill, newfound tenderness, and winsome vulnerability. And finally, the same guys in their pickups are smart enough to know that George Soros and Ned Lamont are rich enough and powerful enough to avoid paying the social debt on their bad bet.
Excerpt from R.R. Reno
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