April 28th, 2004

  A Neocon Gatecrashes VDARE


VDARE is an immigration-restrictionist web site. I am an immigration restrictionist, as my National Review Online articles occasionally illustrate. I am therefore an enthusiastic reader of VDARE, and am on friendly personal terms with several of the contributors. I admire others from a distance. In short, I find VDARE highly simpatico. Except for just this one thing: I support the Iraq war. The VDARE editors, who are tolerant and broad-minded types, suggested that I explain my heresy on this point, and that is what I am going to try to do. I had better make it plain that I am speaking for myself in what follows, not for National Review.

Supporting the war puts me at odds with all (I think) the regular VDARE contributors, and probably most readers. It is not obvious, at first glance, why this should be so. What does the desire for a stricter immigration policy have to do with opposing the war in Iraq? Why do disparate ideas "travel together" like this? Why is a Second Amendment supporter much more likely than not to favor restrictions on abortion, when guns and fetuses are completely different things? The answer, of course, is that both opinions have a common source in the psyche. They are both particular expressions of a general cast of mind.

If I may presume to peer into the psyches of VDARE editors and readers, I think the cast of mind most of you have is of the kind we now call "paleoconservative." Your image of the United States is, in the words of one of the most accomplished writers in this zone, of "a republic, not an empire." You see the U.S. as a commercial nation, minding her own business, her citizens exercising a high level of liberty under limited government, with that government devolved as much as possible to the states and localities. You wish the U.S. to avoid foreign entanglements and war, "the health of the state." You especially resent our government's strong support for Israel; not necessarily because you are antisemitic (though I suppose some of you are), as because it is an unnecessary, a disproportionate, entanglement with a commercially insignificant country. It has no advantage for us, and is an irritant in our relations with much bigger and more important countries. This latter point of view was memorably expressed by the French ambassador to London recently.

Paleoconservatives are, of course, conservatives. The thing you wish to conserve is this America, aloof from the Old World and all its tiresome millennial squabbles. No big fans of the "proposition nation" concept, you are inclined to think that the U.S. is what she is, with all her freedom, stability and prosperity, mainly because of her Anglo-Saxon heritage in law, customs, language and religion; and that the further removed from that cultural sphere a nation is, the more difficult it will be for immigrants from that nation to assimilate happily into American culture, and the more likely it is, if their numbers be very large, that they might actually change American society in unwelcome ways. Hence the immigration-restrictionist viewpoint.

I concur with most of this, but part company with you at the adjective "aloof." The idea that the U.S. can stay out of the world's troubles is, I believe, a fantasy. It is an appealing fantasy — I personally find it extremely appealing — but a fantasy none the less. If you are going to get rich by trading with the world, you are going to get stuck with a lot of the world's problems. A lot of the world's envy and resentment, too. Also, of course, if you don't control your borders, a lot of the world's huddled masses — too many to properly assimilate, especially if your intellectual elites have decided that "assimilate" is a dirty word! It is not a matter of imperialism. The imperialist principle is "trade follows the flag." The case I am stating is more like: "The flag will get pulled along in trade's wake, whether you like it or not."

The idea of a pristine republic, busily minding her own business, is, I say again, a fantasy. Trotsky is supposed to have said: "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you." Americans are famously uninterested in the rest of the world. A foreign-born editor of this very website once remarked to me that: "Americans don't really, in their hearts, believe that foreigners exist." That is putting it a little strongly, but it catches a thought that occurs to every foreigner who comes to live here. The world, unfortunately, is very interested in America, as events occasionally remind us. (The name "Pearl Harbor" mean anything?)

I therefore believe that America needs to be active in the world, merely in defense of her own interests. As a crypto-paleo-con, I should of course much prefer that this activity be peaceful, carried out in convivial meetings between portly diplomats. The 2001 attacks on our territory convinced me, however, that in dealing with tribal gangster-satrapies like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Libya, the peaceful approach — what in traditional Chinese statecraft was called "soothing the barbarians" — is no longer tenable. I support the Iraq war because I don't believe we can just go on letting these failed states fester undisturbed. They have been getting, and will continue to get, more and more dangerous, more and more dysfunctional, more and more of a threat to us — very directly, as we saw on 9/11 — and to our interests.

And I do see this as a matter of civilization versus barbarism. I rather like civilization, and long to see it robustly defended, both physically and intellectually; not with a cowering-behind-walls defense, but with an aggressive forward strategy when appropriate. Chinese generals must sally out to chase Huns across the steppe, Britain must send a gunboat up the Irawaddy, U.S. Marines must storm the shores of Tripoli (under the closest thing to a paleo-con President the republic ever had), and Don John of Austria is riding to the sea. I favor strong U.S. support of Israel on the same grounds. That nation is one of civilization's front lines, and I do not want civilization to yield any ground to the barbarians, not even a shitty little inch. I believe, in fact, that to do so would be indirectly disastrous for us, for this nation, the U.S.A.

To charges that, as an outlier here — neither pro-open borders and pro-war, like a redblooded neocon, nor immigration-restrictionist and anti-war, like a decent paleocon — I am being illogical, or am suffereing from cognitive dissonance, or am desperately trying to stay friends with everybody, I can only say that I see no contradiction myself, and that if I were the type who writes in order to curry favor with powerful people, I would be driving a much nicer car by now. I make up my own mind. I love my new nation, this United States of America, and want her to preserve her character as little changed as the ordinary processes of time will allow. I also want her to be an assertive and unapologetic defender of the civilization she belongs to. Let's face it, the job must be done, and no-one else much is volunteering.

I guess my attitude to the war is really just punitive, and Iraq was a target of opportunity. I am not a Wilsonian nation-builder. I don't want to "bring democracy to Iraq." I don't, in fact, give a fig about the Iraqis. I am happy to leave barbarians alone to practice their unspeakable folkways, so long as they do not bother civilized peoples. When they do bother us, though, I want them smacked down with great ferocity. Saddam Hussein had been scoffing for years at the very concept of international order, in the belief that we would never pass from words to deeds. I wanted to see that belief confounded, and I am pleased that it has been. If the civilized world is never willing to back up its agreements, resolutions, and communiqués with force, then those fine documents are all worthless and civilization is impotent against its enemies. I am very glad to know that we have not yet reached that sorry pass.