David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

Tag: ideology (page 3 of 4)

Three Versions of Politics

In the aftermath of the Southeast Asia tsunamis, the Bush administration pathetically found itself spending more money on its second inauguration than it initially committed to disaster relief. Even now, its contributions are not especially impressive. I donated to relief organizations, and then, left to my own thoughts, I went through three responses: anger, despair, and detachment.

I was infuriated when I read Slavoj Zizek’s The Liberal Waterloo. Zizek proposes that it is for the better that Bush won the 2004 election, since it will

dispel the illusions about the solidarity of interests among the developed Western countries. It will give a new impetus to the painful but necessary process of strengthening new alliances like the European Union or Mercosur in Latin America. … Within these coordinates, every progressive who thinks should be glad for Bush&#x92s victory. It is good for the entire world because the contours of the confrontations to come will now be drawn in a much starker way. A Kerry victory would have been a kind of historical anomaly, blurring the true lines of division. After all, Kerry did not have a global vision that would present a feasible alternative to Bush&#x92s politics.

Zizek spends a good deal of space lambasting liberals for their faulty faith in Kerry and his empty vision, instead proclaiming the ascent of a new counterweight that will not seek unity with the United States. I disagree (except on the empty vision part), but it is not this that bothers me. Nor is it throwaway lines like this, which make me fear that his grasp of economics is quite weak:

Further, Bush&#x92s victory is paradoxically better for both the European and Latin American economies: In order to get trade union backing, Kerry promised to support protectionist measures.

No, it was the words “painful but necessary” that were maddening. I pictured Zizek sitting in his safe European home, gently telling his dialectic-minded followers that it is all for the best, that the nightmares that await are part of a cleansing clarity of darkness through which the new sun will rise. I thought it displays a faith not so different than that which informs the Left Behind books that he mentions. I exaggerate, but I was upset.

From Edmund Burke, a philosopher I despised for a long time before coming to a tenuous rapprochement, I learned not that revolution was wrong, but that it is absurd to believe that a ideology, revolutionary or otherwise, can be faithfully transmuted into a working polity. Zizek does not offer statecraft, but inflated theory with which he cheers the coming crash. I have no doubt that life will get far more unpleasant, but I will not allow myself to believe that the decreased education, increased poverty, and burgeoning intolerance will yield a better world or revivified political debate through anything except pure accident. I will not applaud the clarity gained when the U.S. refuses to ante up more than a pittance for the damage wrought by tsunamis in Southeast Asia.

Nor do I believe that the “lessons” learned from these horrible experiences by the vast majority of Americans (or others) will be anything other than instinctive reactions towards some new random vector. Even the ultimately optimistic economist Joseph Schumpeter was sober and cautious when considering the failure of capitalism and the successful rise of socialism, offering only an equivocal endorsement of what he believed would come to pass.

Zizek portrays an America of uniquely extreme religious fanatics. But the United States’ problem is that through an unlucky confluence of events, a group of crazies have taken over, people who do not act, in general, in line with the beliefs of those who voted for them. This is not because Americans are particularly close-minded or bloodthirsty, but because most people everywhere are irrational and ignorant.

After the election, I felt an alienation from huge chunks of my country far greater than anything I’d previously experienced. I could not find words for it, but Steven Shaviro sharply articulated the paralyzing despair: Nothing.

I think, rather, that 59 million people voted for Bush in full consciousness of what they were doing. They were aware of the harms that they would suffer from this action, but they were willing to put personal advantage aside in order to serve a higher duty. In other words, the reelection of George W. Bush was an ethical decision, a moral choice.

I believed this too in darker moments, but then I asked myself: what duty? I remind myself that this President hardly articulates policy, especially given how often it reverses. His steady, agonizingly simple personality is the foundation for any policy; (I don’t think Tom DeLay could have gotten elected with the same rhetoric, and so far, he agrees with me.) With any luck, this version of politics too will fall away after Bush leaves public office (whenever that may be), and there is no longer a cowboy hat on which to hang the current policies.

Looking to the future, I think that India has it right. The Road to Surfdom has a piece on India’s attitude towards America that gives probably the best-case long-term scenario. Dunlop paraphrases the Indian government’s attitudes as such:

[The Congressional delegation] spoke to a lot of Indian government people and the message from them was very clear, and in a nutshell it was this: We don’t much care about America. He said they were very polite but almost indifferent. Maybe matter-of-fact is a better description. The conversation went something like this:

We consider ourselves as in competition with China for leadership in the new century. That’s our focus and frankly, you have made it very difficult for us to deal with you. We find your approach to international affairs ridiculous. The invasion of Iraq was insane. You’ve encouraged the very things you say you were trying to fix – terrorism and instability. Your attitude to Iran is ridiculous. You need to engage with Iran. We are. We are bemused by your hypocrisy. You lecture the world about dealing with dictators and you deal with Pakistan. We are very sorry for your losses from the 9/11 terror attacks. Welcome to our world. You threaten us with sanctions for not signing the non-proliferation treaty, but you continue to be nuclear armed and to investigate new weapons. You expect us to neglect our own security because you want us to. We don’t care about sanctions.

That seems about right. The resistance of so many people to embrace a non-Western-centric view of the next half-century years (and I include Zizek here) is as much a product of parochialism as it is of short-sightedness. The view of a battle between European progressivism and American fundamentalism (Zizek calls it fundamentalism; I, who can’t see a competent hand at the wheel, would just term it insanity) seems obsolete, an artifact of half a millennium of Eurocentrism.

Given the damage wrought to it by the tsunamis, India certainly regrets the United States’ lack of assistance, but is probably not surprised by it. The United States’ total inability to lead in aiding South Asia, or even to feign appropriate sympathy (pace Burke), is ironically appropriate. I still wish that the richest country in the world would shell out a few billion, and I do believe Kerry would have wrangled a bit more, though not as much as I would like. But either way, change is coming through economic realignment, not through Zizek’s advocacy of the repoliticization of the economy (which itself seems to be synonymous with a re-Europeanization of the world).

Likewise, the damaging acts of the United States, assuming they don’t wipe us all out, will be self-marginalizing, rendering the decline of liberalism and the increased polarization of Europeans and Americans irrelevant. So when I am set upon by the black mood of despair that Steven Shaviro described, I regretfully welcome the decline of the United States’ influence, so as to minimize the impact and scope of what Zizek ominously describes as “the confrontations to come.”

Ominous to me, at least.

Aharon Appelfeld, Badenheim 1939

Aharon Appelfeld’s great achievement is in presenting the mind of a survivor; not that of a “Holocaust survivor” per se, but that of a person who has been through such severely dehumanizing and existentially threatening experiences, and the permanent damage done to their psyches.

My favorite of his works are The Immortal Bartfuss and The Iron Tracks, which in turn present two very different personalities, one obsolescent, one vengeful, both beset by the same sense of pointlessness, that they have outlived whatever meaning could be ascribed to their lives, and that their meaning should have come in death. (Alexander Kluge has occasionally treated this theme with great success.) The Holocaust looms in their memories, but hardly ever articulates itself; it is shown through who they currently are, not by what happened in the past, and Appelfeld’s talent in this is acute. Arnost Lustig and Imre Kertesz have achieved similar portrayals, but Appelfeld’s has always been for me the most immanent. And not without reason. Compare this quote from a Lustig interview:

CER: It must be difficult to forget your experiences from Holocaust.
LUSTIG: No, not at all. I’m not thinking about it. I’m writing about it. It’s very different. It’s like you had two lives; one “literature&#x85life as a writer” and one real, existential.
CER: So when you write about the Holocaust, it isn’t a process of coming to terms with your experiences?
LUSTIG: I’m not writing about it. I write about a lot of other things. It’s only set at that time. Look, every writer can write only about what he is familiar with, what’s under his skin. So I write about what I really know. I could write about anything. But why would I write about everything when I can write about something in-depth? Literature tries to discover something that is invisible in a man, something mysterious: his impulses, his incentives, the causes of his actions. Why he is acting the way he’s acting. Unexplained things. In that case it doesn’t matter if you write about a concentration camp.

with this quote of Appelfeld’s, from an interview shortly after Badenheim 1919:

Q: What is your main difficulty as a writer?
APPELFELD: You see, first of all, to be a Jewish writer is a heavy obligation. My close family was killed. My natural environment, my childhood, my sweetest memories were killed. And so it&#x92s a kind of obligation that I feel; I&#x92m dealing with a civilization that has been killed. How to represent it in the most honorable way&#x96not to equalize it, not to exaggerate, but to find the right proportion to represent it, in human terms.

For Lustig, the experiences become background for literature; for Appelfeld, they are the literature. It may make Lustig the more imaginative writer in that regard, but Appelfeld at his best has a styleless immediacy that I have never seen Lustig reach.

But this is not Appelfeld’s only theme. Badenheim 1939 is one of his more famous works, and deals with vacation resort housing the bourgeois of Austria. Many of them are Jewish, and at the end, when they are taken off to the camps under the pretense of being separated and relocated, many of them are still oblivious to their impending doom. A late speech by a sick, crippled rabbi, dismissed by all the book’s characters, explains the theme:

“What do they want? All these years they haven’t paid any attention to the Torah. Me they locked away in an old-age home. They didn’t want to have anything to do with me. Now they want to go to Poland. There is no atonement without asking forgiveness first.”

The rabbi’s voice took the column of people by surprise. He spoke in a jumble of Hebrew and Yiddish. The people could not understand a word he said, but his anger was obvious.

The problem is that Appelfeld is not an ironist. Superficially, the novel appears to be the mirror image of many of his other books: the great unspoken tragedy in the past in The Iron Tracks becomes the great unforeseen tragedy in the future in Badenheim 1939. But the symmetry is not so simple. Appelfeld moves the locus of his representation out of the Jews’ minds (they are, in general, portrayed as unsympathetic victims) and into the setting itself.

There is a forced allegory with two groups of fish in a tank, one of which massacred the other, and the question of whether they should be separated. There is much gaiety while they ignore the increasing anti-semitism in Austria and Germany. And most directly, there is this passage, about the cloistered, stuffy Professor Fussholdt:

Professor Fussholdt read the proofs of his book. At one time his lectures had given rise to quite a controversy in academic circles. It was he who had called Theodore Herzl “a hack writer with messianic pretensions,” and his associates “petty functionaries who jumped on the golden bandwagon.” Martin Buber too did not escape his barbs. It was Fussholdt who had said that Buber couldn’t make up his mind if he was a prophet or a professor. If anyone deserved the title of a great Jew, according to Fussholdt, it was Karl Kraus: he had revived satire. And now the professor was sitting and proofreading his latest book. Who was he attacking now? The journalists, the hacks, so-called “Jewish art”? Perhaps his book was about Hans Herzl, Theodore’s son who had converted to Christianity. Or perhaps it was a book about satire, the only art form appropriate to our lives.

It is too leaden for irony. Appelfeld writes as though he is not just impatient with his own characters, but furious at them. He has internalized the material so deeply that these people can only be portrayed as fatally misled suckers, who have bought into the notion of civilized Germany so deeply that they have forsaken the roots and the only other people whom they can really trust: their own. It’s not that Appelfeld is off the mark here; just ask Walter Rathenau, who considered himself as much German as Jew, and was assassinated by right-wing extremists. The problem that his view is so closely identified with the viewpoint of his survivors that he comes off as moralizing. There is little to be learned from the people he portrays, other than that in his opinion, they were wrong. They followed their country, not their people.

Kraus is a fascinating example, though, since he represents an anti-authoritarian voice, but a wholly secular one. I wish that Appelfeld had said more about Fussholdt and, by way of him, Kraus, since while there is little surprise in seeing the idle classes disregard warning signs, seeing the intellectuals do so is far more interesting (if ultimately not too surprising either). Does Appelfeld find Kraus and satire to be falsely sanitizing forces while evil storms are brewing? He’s not the sort to answer this question, but the anger comes through. But when spoken in the voice of the author, attacking these future victims, the book loses its poise.

Appelfeld emigrated to Israel very early on, and in the interview above, he speaks as though he were a follower of Ben-Gurion, a forceful but pragmatic Zionist. (It’s worth remembering that Zionist founder Theodore Herzl wasn’t interested in Jerusalem.) The recent Ha’aretz interview with Appelfeld seems to have disappeared from the archive, but via a tip from The Elegant Variation, I located an copy of Ari Shavit’s interview with Appelfeld. It’s difficult to summarize, since he doesn’t articulate a clear political standpoint, and I recommend reading the whole thing. There are two things that stand out. First is that this is a man who is more concerned with intra-Jewish struggles than with anything else: Zionism vs. Europeanism, settlers vs. land-for-peacers, internalized self-hatred, etc. Second is the constant turning back on his own thoughts:

I am careful to keep things in proportion. Precisely because I went through terrible things. But in the past two years I have stopped using the bus and I am ashamed of it. I am afraid that the bus will blow up and I am ashamed that I am afraid the bus will blow up. And when I sit in a cafe in Jerusalem, I am not relaxed. The cafe could blow up, too. And when my granddaughter goes to school, we ask whether she came back or not. Maybe something happened. Now the emotional side is something interesting. Because in the Holocaust I was a boy who lost his parents and lived the life of an animal, I should have been taken to a madhouse immediately afterward. Or to a hospice.

This form of servitude to one’s own emotions is what Appelfeld has lived with and expressed in all his work. It does not express itself in ideology; when he attempts to do as much, as in Badenheim 1939, the effect is muted. But in his chronicles of survivors, it is precisely the right tool.

Kaddish for a Child Not Born, Imre Kertesz

I spoke of Imre Kertesz’s Fateless earlier, and my issues with its pretense towards portraying an adolescent’s immediate experience of the Holocaust. Now I’ve read Kertesz’s other commonly available translated book, Kaddish for a Child Not Born, and it goes a great ways towards explaining the other book. (Supposedly far better translations are coming out soon….)

Kertesz is, of course, far more opinionated than his adolescent stand-in of Fateless, and this interview with Gunter Grass and Kertesz gives a good idea of where Kertesz stands. The Reading Experience excerpts the most salient bits, but for me Kertesz’s words boil down to this one sentence:

Around the time when Mr Grass was beavering away on political commitment, I was beavering away on why a writer should not commit himself politically.

That rejectionist stance, in brief, is what Kaddish is about, except it is about how a Holocaust survivor, who happens to be a writer, cannot commit, period. He cannot commit to having a child, and he cannot commit to a relationship with his wife. Other writers have used the Holocaust as grounds for political action of certain stripes, or as a mark of disgrace against all or part of humanity, or as cause for fatalism. But Kertesz uses it to reject abstraction. And this comes out of anger at what he sees as more trivial representations of the Holocaust:

By way of that wretched sentence “Auschwitz cannot be explained” is the wretched author explaining that we should be silent concerning Auschwitz, that Auschwitz doesn’t exist, or, rather, that it didn’t, for the only facts that cannot be explained are those that don’t or didn’t exist…Consequently, Auschwitz must have been hanging in the air for a long, long time, centuries, perhaps like a dark fruit slowly ripening in the sparkling rays of innumerable ignominious deeds, waiting to finally drop on one’s head…I could have said about Auschwitz that the explanation is contained in individual lives and exclusively in individual lives, nowhere else. Accordingly, Auschwitz is the image and deeds of individual lives in my opinion, seen under the emblem of a particular organization. If all of mankind commences to dream, Moosbrugger is bound to be born, that attractive lust-murderer we read of in Musil’s The Man Without Qualities.

The paradox here is that while organized genocide requires the auspices of a state or a large functioning body, it is still individuals, and their individual dreams that grow, unknowably, to produce a single totality. Part of Moosbrugger’s role in Musil’s work is as a character who resists explanation, who may be a product of society, but not a conceptualized product of society. Likewise, Kertesz seems to say, Auschwitz is a consequence of such-and-such in the lives of millions of people over hundreds of years, and that irreducibly serves as its explanation. What is not possible is to generalize the mechanism of its creation. Debates over “Is art possible after the Holocaust?” are not just meaningless, they’re offensive.

He mentions a story he wrote about a Christian man who, due to Jewish blood, is sent off to the camps. This man is estranged from all concepts of heritage and culture:

But how can one fundamentally like an abstract concept as, for example, Jewishness? How can one like an unknown mass stuffed into this abstract concept?…Now he had rid himself of this pain of his assumed responsibility. Now he can, in good conscience, reject those whom he rejects and he no longer has to like those he doesn’t like. He is liberated because he no longer has a homeland. All that is left to decide now is the state of his death. Should he die as Jew, as Christian, as hero or as victim, perhaps even as a metaphysical absurdity, the victim of a neo-chaos of the demiurge? Since none of these concepts means anything to him, he decides not to taint the positive purity of his death by a lie.

And here is what Kertesz was getting at in Fateless: the attempted presentation of unmediated experience as unvarnished truth, bereft of theory, ideology, meaning or meaninglessness. Throughout Kaddish, the main character rejects role after role: father, friend, husband, and writer. The last is most significant for the reader, and it gives the implication that Kertesz believes that Fateless was destined to be a failure and is a failure, because even in writing he takes on an abstract role that he does not wish for himself.

This makes for frustrating but brutally honest reading: if Fateless was the unsuccessful product of a concept (which it surely was), then Kaddish is the breakdown of conceptualization and Kertesz’s rejection of it. As an exercise in self-abnegation it has entirely different qualities from Beckett, and maybe a little in common with Ingeborg Bachmann. But the agonized image of a man for whom every written word is a lie is far stronger in Kertesz, and it puts me in mind of, ironically, William Gass’s The Tunnel, in which literary use of the Holocaust was pushed to intentionally distasteful and trivial ends. (See this review for further details.)

Robert Musil and Walter Rathenau

Maybe now is the time to learn German. Karl Corino’s massive, 2000-page biography of Robert Musil was recently published, and apart from articles in the New Left Review and the TLS, I haven’t seen much mention of it in my English-speaking circles. Philip Payne, who translated and edited the English reduction of Musil’s diaries, did the TLS review, about half of which is present at that link.

For me it’s tantalizing, since it relates something that remains very oblique even in the diaries, which is Musil’s ongoing and shifting relation to the The Man Without Qualities, which he was creating for decades. I’m skeptical of the theorizing over Musil’s syphilis and the hint that Musil wasn’t especially good for his friends. Speaking about the brilliant but flighty and capricious Clarisse, from MWQ, and her real-life parallel Alice Donath, Payne says:

(Clarisse, like Alice, goes mad after her marriage and is eventually placed in an institution; one wonders whether Musil’s wedding gift to Alice of Nietzsche’s Collected Works, or his letter inviting her to become his “little sister” contributed to her troubles.)

Without knowing the details, I have to wonder if Payne has spent too much time with Musil and his (many) flaws. Ray Monk grew to despise Bertrand Russell while working on his biography, and I’m sure that Musil’s unyielding, single-minded genius could easily have the same effect.

But I’m intrigued by the talk of Musil’s increasing isolation from his work’s sources: not just temporally, but even personally, as he stopped associating with friends who had been the novel’s models. This, however, seems secondary to Musil’s situational problem, which is that history had left him behind:

In a letter of 1934 to his friend the satirist Franz Blei, Musil, given his desperate personal situation and the Nazi takeover in Germany, compares his continued work on The Man without Qualities to “the diligence of a woodworm, boring through a picture frame in a house that is already ablaze”.

The metaphor alludes to the Reichstag fire, but also to Musil’s own task. He was, very carefully, tearing apart the liberal and nationalistic ambitions and ideals personified in the characters of MWQ. The failure of “the barren conceit of the brain” manifested in the Great War is the constant theme, and there is no greater representative of the brain of statecraft than Arnheim, whom Musil repeatedly dissects as brilliant, but shallow. Arnheim was modeled on Walter Rathenau, the businessman and foreign minister who became one of the most prominent international negotiators in post-Versailles Germany, until he was assassinated by anti-Semitic right-wingers in 1922, removing one more obstacle in the way of the ideological and political ascent of Nazism.

Musil’s engagement with Arnheim/Rathenau is total, but by 1934, it could not have seemed relevant. He was attacking an Enlightenment-derived ideology in one of the better statesmen of the century while National Socialism had taken over the world around him. Excavation of a flawed “frame” was hardly noticeable while the house was on fire.

Musil treats the more extreme aspects in the later parts of the book, introducing the figure of Meingast, a faux-mystical shyster who plays like Kevin Kline quoting Nietzsche in A Fish Called Wanda. Meingast was loosely based on Ludwig Klages, a Spengler-ish conservative, anti-Semitic moron, deservedly forgotten. (I’d rather not link to the stuff that turns up, but if you’d like to be introduced to Klages and his unpleasant breathren such as Carl Schmitt, try looking for them on Google.) While Musil has some fun with Meingast (he’s the only character who is really a caricature), you sense that his heart’s not in it; Meingast is not a challenge. Anyone with a brain would hardly take him seriously. But anyone with a brain was in short supply.

(For an inexact modern parallel, I think of Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, where he condemns the anti-egghead attitude by pointing to how Eisenhower, the “normal guy” candidate, won twice over the wonky, detached Adlai Stevenson. Oh, for such days again….)

Musil wrote “On Stupidity” in 1937, a abstruse (for him) Benjamin-like exercise in postponement in which he never quite gets around to what he wants to say because it would get him in big trouble. I won’t subject it to close reading here, but consider the very end of it:

For because our knowledge and ability are incomplete, we are forced in every field to judge prematurely; but we make the effort, and have learned to keep this error within recognized limits and occasionally improve on it, and by this means put our activity back on the right track. There is really no reason why this exact and proudly humble judgment and activity could not be carried over into other areas as well, and I believe that the principle, “Act as well as you can and as badly as you must, but in doing so remain aware of the margin of error of your actions!” would already be halfway toward a promising arrangement of life.

Why the sudden pragmatism and appeal to modesty, attitudes not particularly present in MWQ? Earlier in the same essay he closes the book on German Enlightenment attitudes, saying that the new task is “to complete the always necessary, indeed deeply desired, transition to the new with the least possible loss.” His plea for caution is an attempt at damage control, with the fatalistic implication that he himself is an anachronism, and that all his brains can only boil the present day down to a homily that should be obvious. Rathenau is long dead, and with him much of the kindling for Musil’s work.

Update: Thomas Pynchon chimes in via Gravity’s Rainbow, shortly before Rathenau is channelled by some Nazis and issues some cryptic mystical statements about industrialization, chemistry, and death:

His father Emil Rathenau had founded AEG, the German General Electric Compny, but young Walter was more than another industrial heir–he was a philosopher with a vision of the postwar State. He saw the war in progress as a world revolution, out of which would rise neither Red communism nor an unhindered Right, but a rational structure in which business would be the true, the rightful authority–a structure based, not surprisingly, on the one he’d engineered in Germany for fighting the World War. (165)

Though Rathenau seems to have had a change of heart post-death, since the live Rathenau never spoke of “The persistence, then, of structures favoring death.”

Paul Craig Roberts on the Neocons

I just read Paul Craig Roberts’s review of Claes G. Ryn‘s America the Virtuous, in the Jan 2 TLS. Roberts, author of books like The New Color Line, has bona fide conservative credentials: Hoover Institution, Wall Street Journal, and so on. But he’s far more Edmund Burke than Leo Strauss:

The rise of a new Jacobin ideology…has captured the Bush administration and formerly conservative media, such as the Wall Street Journal editorial page, National Review, the Washington Times, and Fox News. Known to the world as neo-conservativism, this ideology is radical, not conservative. It appears to be conservative because, unlike cultural Marxists who find endless social and moral vices in American values and institutions, neo-conservatives find virtue.

Like the Cato Institute, who haven’t been big Bush boosters for a while, Roberts is enough of a libertarian to have it trump his traditional party allegiances. He’s not concerned with corruption, class stratification, or cultural divisons; he’s worried that the “neo-Jacobin” (i.e., Leo Straussian neo-conservatism) approach will be disastrous and wreck the country economically, militarily, and politically.

Listen to him bemoan the lack of an opposition to the neo-cons:

The alternative voice to the new Jacobins is that of postmodernism and cultural Marxism. This voice, strongest in the universities, is hostile to America and works against enculturation of its youth in traditional American values. As cultural Marxism does not resonate with the general population, it is not a political check on the neo-conservatives.

The description of academia is a little harsh, but I have to admire the pithiness of his assessment of its effectiveness.

But I do think he’s gone astray. With Richard Perle out at the Defense Policy Board and Paul Wolfowitz supposedly the next to go (keeping my fingers crossed there), he picks at the wrong part of Strauss’s agenda. Americans aren’t Romans and they aren’t anywhere near as keen on military adventurism; that would be the first chip to fall. Likewise the proclamation of American virtue over rest-of-world vice: it’s a useful rhetorical device, but the ultimate authorities (I would speculate: Rove and Cheney; maybe Rumsfeld, who had different axes to grind than the neocons) decided the adventure in Iraq was a safe bet, not an ideological necessity. Why else was there such a hard push to convince us all (citizens and executives alike) that Iraq would be a cakewalk?

The Roberts article is interesting to me because after all his excoriation of “conservatism” in America today, it still gives the movement some benefit of the doubt by assigning them some pragmatic motives:

The same pragmatic politicians who have no interests except their own re-election might, in fact, safe us from the world the neo-Jacobins have in mind.

Add “accumulation of unchecked, centralized executive power” to the list of interests. This is the Straussian principle–the presence of a totalitarian Platonic ruling class–that poses the most threat to Roberts’s libertarian agenda, and it&#x92s the one most likely to survive the downfall of neo-conservatism…or the downfall of the Bush administration. Here, I think Paul Krugman is totally on the mark:

There is no higher goal. Bush’s motivations are dynastic–to secure his family’s rightful place. While he may have some policy biases–like that “instinctive policy fealty” to the investment business–policy is basically there to serve the acquisition of power, and not the other way around.

The story of neoconservatism and the movement of a radical ideology to the center of the political establishment is more interesting than your typical power-hungry executive, but it’s secondary to, and I think separable from, the dominant theme of domestic control. Still, I have to respect a classical conservative desperate and consistent enough to end on this note:

Although most Americans are unaware of it, their best hope is that Iraqi insurgents succeed in driving the US out of Iraq, thus destroying Bush’s re-election.

What would Burke say?

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