Monday, May 21, 2007

Two Wrongs Don't Make A Right - Comparitive Historiography Edition

Robert Kagan, along with his seemingly hydra headed family, is one of the biggest cheerleaders for war, any war, that America can possibly enter. The Kagan-Kristol branch of the Neocons are "anti-pacifists," They seemingle support any war, at any time, for any reason. Kagan is the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics embodied in one pundit.

Kagan’s book, based on this and other reviews, argues that America, from its founding, was an expansionist power, intent on meddling in other countries’ business and spreading their conception of freedom. I’m not judging the merits of any particular foreign policy here, we can save that for later. I want to point out, however, an odd convergence in the general historical view of the US from the leftist anti imperialist view and Kagan’s. The striking thing is how much they agree. Talk to the Zinns and Vidals of the world and you’ll see that they essentially agree with Kagan. They bag on Lincoln and Monroe as being imperialists, and shed many tears for Hawaii, the Philippines, Cuba, the South and many other spots for pre or early 20th century US asskicking. Kagan, in his course to justify that interventionism is as American as apple pie and poorly made cars, largely agrees with this interpretation. From AmSpec's review of Dangerous Nation via Sullivan:

Kagan's America was a place of "ugliness" that provided "fortunes for a few and misery for many...[and] treated men as things" until "laws and institutions modeled after England's" made it livable.

Kagan deconstructs American history's protagonists as representatives of impersonal forces and presents them without regard for their own understanding of what they were doing.

He argues that the Founders understood it to mean that they had the right and duty to deprive other peoples of their independence and liberty as they might understand it.

Robert Kagan writes that "despite four hundred years of steady expansion and ever deepening involvement in world affairs, and despite numerous wars, interventions, and prolonged occupations of foreign lands... Americans still believe their nation's natural tendencies are toward passivity, indifference and insularity."

Take out the obvious normative differences (Zinn: Intervention all over the place is bad, Kagan: No, you knave, it is good!) and you basically have the same story. This of course, is an insight into why Zinn and Kagan are both wrong. While it may be fun to look at US history as just capital vs labor or wanting to kick ass vs. wanting to kick more ass, there are individuals involved, and major, consequential policy decisions that could or could not have been made. It is no surprise why this simplistic view of history produces what, in my view, is bad foreign policy. Either, “the US is an imperialist beast and always has been and that’s evil ergo I oppose US imperialism” or “The US is an imperialist beast and always has been, but interventionism is sweet, ergo I support all US interventions.”

Remember, just because Zinn and his lot were right about Iraq, that doesn’t mean they have a sound approach to foreign policy. All it means is that the neocons are clearly out of their minds, when they make Zinn's or Cockburn's ill-advised, reflexive foreign policy look good.

Of course, there is a similar, and related, historical convergence on the Civil War, with Marxist Perry Anderson and most paleocons on one side vs Henry Jaffa types. It goes basically like this. “Lincoln was an imperialist, authoritarian, war mongerAnderson and the paleocons think this is awful, Jaffa likes it. Birds of a feather… (ed - maybe now is not the time to belittle paleocons by comparing them to Marxists)

UPDATE: Blogfather Larison chimes in, and contra Sullivan, informs us that:

Angelo Codevilla is wildly, intensely hawkish and hegemonist; he is one of those people who will bear the label imperialist as a badge of honour. No one who has any sense of the various factions and arguments on the American right would ever confuse a Codevilla piece with anything related to paleos.

Of course, I'll trust that Larison knows more than me (ed - you're damn right you will) on who is and isn't paleo. I think most of my analysis holds up (ed - with all the standard caveats: you have no qualifications, you don't really know what you're talking about etc) Which is odd, of course, because your standard Struassian loves to gloat about how only he knows the true, esoteric nature of America and, if you're at Claremont, how Abraham Lincoln was totally sweet and truly American is his habeas stripping, pseudo authoritarian ass kicking of the South; (I don't necessarily disagree with this, but the Civil War is for another day) basically, I'd expect them to agree with Kagan's analysis, but then again, I'm capable of being suprised. Of course, you have famed Straussian Harvey Mansfield revealing to us that Machiaveli is really the hidden founding father equal to Jefferson or Hamilton and how an executive above the law is the sweetest thing ever. So you can never really be sure what these Struassian neocons are up to.

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