LECTURE 8: THE GRAND STRATEGIC CONTEXT
By Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind (source)
One of the topics the next conservatism will have to address with some urgency is grand strategy. Grand strategy is a country's overarching idea about how it intends to relate to the rest of the world.
Currently, America's grand strategy is to press "democratic capitalism" on the rest of the world, by force of arms if necessary. Not only has that grand strategy led us into a morass in Iraq, it has greatly undermined our moral standing almost everywhere. As Russell Kirk wrote, the surest way to make someone your enemy is to tell him you are going to remake him in your image for his own good.
By the end of the Bush administration, if not before, it will be clear that America needs a different grand strategy. The next conservatism will have to offer one. But before we can offer a new grand strategy, we need to understand the grand strategic context - the environment with which our grand strategy will have to deal. Paul Weyrich asked me to lay out the 21st Century grand strategic context as I see it in this and the next column.
In my view, the 21st Century will be shaped on the grand strategic level by a collision between two vast forces, the Fourth Generation of Modern War and Brave New World. The forces of the Fourth Generation are non-state elements such as al Qaeda and other "terrorists," as well as gangs, waves of immigrants from other cultures and anyone else who is willing to fight for something other than a state.
As I said in an earlier column, conservatives have to grasp that with the advent of Fourth Generation war, we are facing the greatest change in armed conflict since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. That treaty gave states a monopoly on war. The Fourth Generation is marked by the state's loss of that monopoly and the rise of non-state elements that can fight states and win.
At the heart of this vast change is not a military but a political, social and moral development, a crisis of legitimacy of the state itself. All over the world, including in America, people are withdrawing their primary loyalty from the state and giving it to a wide variety of other things, of many different kinds: to families, clans, tribes, ethnic groups and races, gangs, ideologies, "causes" such as environmentalism and "animal rights," religions and so on. Many people who would never fight for their state are willing, even eager, to fight for their new primary loyalty.
The result of this shift in loyalties will be a 21st Century marked not by "the end of history" that some advocates of American empire have projected, but the return of history, specifically the return of a world similar to Europe between the end of the Middle Ages and the rise of the state. As the state recedes and in some places disappears, life will become nasty, brutish and short. We already see this in places such as West Africa, Somalia, and Iraq, where the state has either vanished or become a fiction, merely a name adopted by one of the many gangs of armed robbers. Where the forces of the Fourth Generation prevail, the Dark Ages will return, and they may once again last for centuries.
The threat represented by the Fourth Generation is easy for most conservatives, and most Americans, to grasp. We are told that we are fighting just that threat in Iraq. In reality, it was our invasion that destroyed the Iraqi state and turned Mesopotamia into a happy hunting ground for a variety of Islamic, non-state, Fourth Generation elements.
Here we see the point where the grand strategic context grows difficult for American conservatives. We want to accept the Washington Establishment's assurances that the counter to the Fourth Generation is more American troops, more American intervention abroad to promote "democratic capitalism."
But that is not the reality. The reality is that the
Fourth Generation's main enemy is not the America that most conservatives
identify with, a culturally Christian American republic, but another force just
a sinister as the Fourth Generation itself: Brave New World. In my next column,
I will address that aspect of the grand strategic context.
During the Cold War American conservatives faced an easy choice. On one side was the United States and the free world, which represented good. On the other was the Soviet Union and world communism, which was evil.
The next conservatism must deal with a more complex grand strategic context. On the one hand are the forces of the Fourth Generation, which I described in the previous column; al Qaeda is an example. We easily recognize these forces as evil.
But on the other hand we find not a force for good but another evil, Brave New World. And while the old United States did represent good during the Cold War, the new, post-1960s America, or at least its elites, is the global leader of Brave New World.
When I was in high school, which was sometime ago, students everywhere had to read two books that laid out two alternate totalitarian futures. One was 1984, which described a future similar to Stalin's Soviet Union. The other book was a short novel written in the 1930s by a British author, Aldous Huxley, titled Brave New World. I suspect few public school students read Brave New World today; it might lead them to question the direction in which America is heading, led in part by the public schools.
Brave New World presents a totalitarian future where the first rule is, "you must be happy." Happiness comes from a combination of materialism, consumerism, electronic entertainment and sexual pleasure. The world is ruled by a global government, which controls all culture and subjects people everywhere to endless psychological conditioning. Does this begin to sound familiar? It should because America has already gone far down the road Huxley envisioned.
Even reproductive processes are becoming much as Huxley foresaw them; in his Brave New World, children were born from bottles in laboratories, not mothers, and were genetically conditioned for their later roles in life. Sex was purely recreational, and everything was permitted except long-term relationships such as marriage. Soon enough, genetic engineering (one of the technologies of which the next conservatism should be extremely skeptical) will give us the genetic conditioning Huxley foresaw to add to the already ever-present psychological conditioning. Together, they will create an inescapable prison for the human will. At that point, we will face what C.S. Lewis called the Abolition of Man.
America's elites have added to Brave New World one element Huxley did not foresee, the ideology of cultural Marxism, otherwise known as Political Correctness. Cultural Marxism has as its goal the destruction of the Christian religion and Western culture, two obvious obstacles to Brave New World's total control over the human will. Cultural Marxism now holds sway over all Western elites; to deny or contravene it (without groveling apologies) is to cease immediately to be a member of the elite. Ordinary people are psychologically conditioned, especially through television and the public schools, to be unable to contravene cultural Marxism. Its marriage with Brave New World is mutually convenient.
Just as Brave New World is correct when it says that the forces of the Fourth Generation represent a return to the Dark Ages, so the Fourth Generation is correct when it calls Brave New World Satanic. Yet as I said at the outset, the collision between these two vast forces will define the grand strategic context in the 21st Century.
How should the next conservatism deal with this situation? Choosing the lesser of two evils is not an option because if there is one thing Brave New World and the Fourth Generation agree on it is that "Western culture's got to go." Western culture defines who we are as conservatives.
Rather, we must do what seems impossible. We must rally the remnants of the Christian West to fight the Fourth Generation and Brave New World simultaneously. The next conservatism must strive to keep the old faith, the old morals and old ways of living alive as, hopefully, Brave New World and the Fourth Generation destroy each other. Will that be possible? With God, all things are possible. But it certainly is not going to be easy.
One of the goals of the next conservatism should be to restore the American republic rather than continue our march toward empire, with the loss of liberties that inevitably entails. Restoring the republic, in turn, means restoring the grand strategy America followed through most of its history. That grand strategy was defensive, not offensive.
The Washington Establishment seems to think that wars can be won only by taking the offensive. Over and over, we hear that in the misnamed “war on terror,” America is on the offensive (which guarantees more war). We are all supposed to accept this as something good.
Clausewitz, the great Prussian military theorist, would disagree. Early in his book ¬On War, Clausewitz wrote,
. . . defense is simply the stronger form of war, the one that makes the enemy’s defeat more certain . . . We maintain unequivocally that the form of warfare we call defense not only offers greater probability of victory than attack, but that its victories can attain the same proportions and results.
What would an American defensive grand strategy look like in a 21st Century that is likely to be dominated by Fourth Generation war, war waged by non-state entities such as al Qaeda? Before we can answer that question we first must address two others. The first is, what do we mean by grand strategy?
The greatest American military theorist, Colonel John Boyd USAF (whom I knew well), defined grand strategy as the art of connecting yourself to as many other independent power centers as possible, while isolating the enemy from as many independent power centers as possible. Connection and isolation is the essence of the art of strategy.
The second question is, in what environment must we seek connection and isolation? Looking outward from the United States and the West, in a century whose most important feature will be the decline of the state, we will find a world divided into centers of order and centers or sources of disorder. As I wrote in an earlier column on the Next Conservatism, those centers of order may reflect our traditional culture or they may derive their order from the “soft totalitarianism” of Brave New World. The latter is a deadly enemy to conservatives and all we stand for, but as an internal threat it is not our focus here.
Putting these two answers together, we can see what a defensive grand strategy would look like. It means we should seek to connect our country with as many other centers of order as possible, while isolating ourselves from as many centers and sources of disorder a possible. In simple terms, this means we would leave centers and sources of disorder alone, militarily and in other ways, unless they attacked us. But if they did attack us, our response would be Roman, which is to say annihilating.
The Washington Establishment will immediately howl in protest at any “isolation,” even when we are talking about isolating ourselves from dangerous disorder. That Establishment lives richly off playing the Great Power game and it has no desire to lose its meal ticket.
The next conservatism should not allow itself to be scared away from sound strategic thinking by bogeymen. When a plague is raging somewhere else, as the plague of violent disorder will rage throughout most of the world as the state fades away, prudence calls for a quarantine. American intervention in centers of disorder will not return them to order; it is more likely to import their disorder here, in the form of refugees and immigrants. Nor does a defensive grand strategy call for “isolationism.” We would not only maintain but strengthen our ties to other parts of the world that remained centers of order, of which China may emerge as the most important.
A defensive grand strategy is what America followed through most of its history and it served us well. It helped keep the federal government small and it allowed our capital to go into industry rather than armaments. As conservatives we know that what worked once can work again. In the Fourth Generation world of a disordered 21st Century, we will do well to maintain both order and liberty here at home. Crusades to “make the world safe for democracy” will render neither the world nor our own country safer for anything.
What may be the most important message of this series is that the conservative movement needs a different agenda for the future than that developed during the Cold War. From that standpoint I am encouraged by a book that offers a new agenda, CRUNCHY CONS, by Rod Dreher, who formerly wrote for NATIONAL REVIEW.
Let me say up front that I cannot imagine a worse name for traditionalist or cultural conservatives than "Crunchy Cons." I hope that title was inflicted upon Mr. Dreher by some publicist.
What his book describes is not something new but something old and to some extent forgotten: the traditionalist conservatism of Russell Kirk. I agree with Rob Dreher that Kirk's understanding of conservatism is highly important to the renewal of the American conservative movement.
The book jacket lists a "Crunchy Con Manifesto" that is similar to some of what I and others have said in these columns. Its points include:
o Modern conservatism has become too focused on money, power,
and the accumulation of stuff.
The last point is especially important to me. Free Congress Foundation was the first conservative think tank to make government policy toward families its focus, in the 1970s.
One of the important questions CRUNCHY CONS raises is just how important efficiency and even economics should be to conservatism. I agree with Dreher when he writes, "we can't build anything good unless we live by the belief that man does not exist to serve the economy, but the economy exists to serve man." The conservative life is not just about getting more stuff cheaper. Yes, we want a decent standard of living, but Dreher is correct in saying
A society built on consumerism must break down eventually for
the same reason socialism did: because even though it is infinitely better than
socialism at meeting our physical needs and gratifying our physical desires,
consumerism also treats human beings as merely materialists, as ciphers on a
spreadsheet. It cannot, over time, serve the deepest needs of the human person
for stability, spirituality, and authentic community. We should not be surprised
that it has led to social disintegration.
I can imagine Russell Kirk's saying "Hear! Hear!" to this. Kirk also would agree with Dreher's rejection of relativism, not only in morals but also in aesthetics. Dreher writes,
In his 1994 book THE OLD WAY OF SEEING . . . architect (Jonathan) Hale argued that the rampant charmlessness of our built environment is a function of America's loss of historical memory: "Everywhere in the buildings of the past is relationship among parts: contrast, tension, balance. Compare the buildings of today and we see no such patterns. We see fragmentation, mismatched systems, uncertainty. This disintegration tends to produce not ugliness so much as dullness . . .
In other words, there is a canon based on tradition, and it should be respected. The next conservatism too, I think, should talk about resurrecting old canons.
One emphasis in CRUNCHY CONS likely to be controversial among other conservatives is Dreher's emphasis upon environmentalism. I reject environmentalism as an ideology, which it largely has become. But Dreher is correct in saying that traditionalist conservatives also have been conservationists. He quotes powerfully from Pope John Paul II's Encyclical Centesimus Annus:
In his desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and to
grow, man consumes the resources of the earth and his own life in an excessive
and disordered way. At the root of the senseless destruction of the natural
environment lies an anthropological error, which unfortunately is widespread in
our day. Man, who discovers his capacity to transform and in a certain sense
create the world through his own work, forgets that this is always based on
God's prior and original gift of the things that are. Man thinks that he can
make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as
though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which
man can indeed develop but must not betray. Instead of carrying out his role as
a cooperator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of
God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature, which is more
tyrannized than governed by him.
Dreher is himself a Roman Catholic, but regardless of religious affiliation, I think most conservatives should agree that this is an area we need to think more about.
That may be the greatest service CRUNCHY CONS can perform for the next conservatism: getting us all to think anew about some of the challenges ahead, from the conservative principles Russell Kirk laid out better than anyone else. In his book's conclusion, Rod Dreher repeats its most important point:
We believe that culture is more important than politics, and that neither America's wealth nor our liberties will long survive a culture that no longer lives by what Russell Kirk identified as "the Permanent Things" - those eternal moral norms necessary to civilized life, and which are taught by all the world's great wisdom traditions.
From its outset, conservative thought has drawn an important distinction between patriotism and nationalism. Patriotism is attachment to the concrete: to one’s own place, one’s own farm or town or valley, and its traditions. Nationalism, in contrast, is abstract, a fanatical devotion to the idea of a country: the Fatherland, the Motherland, la Patrie. One of the most important decisions the next conservatism will need to make is whether it will return to conservative patriotism or embrace the nationalism that is now in favor with parts of the American Right.
It may help conservatives to know that nationalism originated on the Left, in the 18th Century. In his book, THE RISE AND DECLINE OF THE STATE, the Israeli historian Martin van Creveld writes,
As we have seen in too many wars since, nationalism has retained that aggressive, bellicose character. It still does so today, at home as well as abroad.
In his response to the French Revolution, the man generally regarded as the founder of conservative thought defended patriotism against the nationalism of the Revolutionaries. In his REFLECTIONS ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE, Edmund Burke wrote,
The key word here is “local.” Patriotism is local, which is what enables it to be concrete. Nationalism tries to generate an attachment to a country as a whole, which inevitably causes it to become abstract. That abstraction in turn leads to others, and soon enough nationalism becomes bound up with ideology. That has happened with the neo-conservatives and their drive for world dominion in the name of American “democratic capitalism.”
Russell Kirk, Burke’s intellectual heir, had this to say about such American nationalism:
Seen historically, it is not too much to say that those elements of the American Right which have abandoned patriotism in exchange for nationalism have moved away from conservatism itself, toward something else, whatever it may be. Where will this move take us? It has already taken us where nationalism tends to go, to war. In 1914, nationalism took Europe to war, with catastrophic results for Western civilization. Van Creveld puts it thus:
The war in Iraq and its consequences may well bring nationalism into question in America. If that happens conservatives should regard it not as a danger but as an opportunity. It may help the next conservatism return Americans to patriotism, which is far more supportive of a republican form of government, limited state powers and domestic liberty.
“Think locally, act locally” is the conservative response to the Left’s slogan, “Think globally, act locally.” It should also be the next conservatism’s reply to nationalism.
One field in which the next conservatism will probably depart abruptly from current policy is homeland security. The departure will begin with foreign policy and national strategy. As previous columns have suggested, the next conservatism’s foreign policy will seek to preserve a republic here at home, not build an American empire overseas. Logically, that will lead to a defensive rather than an offensive national strategy. In both cases, the next conservatism will not be innovating but returning to the policies our country followed through most of its history.
It is no accident that when we eschewed empire and followed a defensive strategy, our homeland seldom faced much of a threat. We did not need to be “security conscious” or fearful – when it was time to board an aircraft, you just walked out and got on – because there was little reason for anyone to attack us. Much of the “terrorism” threat we now face arises not from who or what we are, but in response to our country’s policies in other parts of the world. Once we turn away from those policies and generally leave other people alone in their back yards, the need for homeland security should diminish. That, of course, is genuine homeland security: not constantly being prepared against an attack, but not needing to worry about being attacked.
There will, of course, always be some level of danger. But the next conservatism will attempt to meet it in ways consistent with conservative principles, which is to say locally. Our first line of defense should be local police. Because the only way to defeat “terrorist” attacks is by preventing them – once one has taken place, even “first response” is too late – police who know their beat, the neighborhoods for which they are responsible, are our most important defenders. Only they can be sufficiently aware to nip potential terrorism in the bud. The next conservatism should strongly favor programs such as the Police Corps, a police ROTC that specifically provides personnel for neighborhood policing.
If another line of defense is needed, the next conservatism might consider reviving an old American tradition: the militia. Because a militia is organized from individual communities, it too, like neighborhood beat cops, knows what is going on. Also like local police, a militia does not serve Big Brother, some vast federal power center that seeks to snoop endlessly in ordinary citizens’ lives. The militia I am talking about here would be a state militia, not a private one (private militias can be dangerous in a world of Fourth Generation war). One way it could be protected from being turned into an arm of Big Brother would be to have it report to the county sheriff, a local, elected official with substantial common law powers. Under no circumstances should it be controlled by Washington.
I am hopeful that the next conservatism will reconsider whether we need a federal Department of Homeland Security. The arguments against it are strong. It has already become Pentagon II, absorbing vast resources while producing very little. Programs intended to support local police have been cut to provide still more money for the federal behemoth. Worse, it is simply not possible for something like the Department of Homeland Security not to endanger our liberties. All its incentives work the other way. Like all other federal bureaucracies, DHS will seek more power, more money, more bureaucratic empire. Against those powerful inbred drives, what is it to keep it from tearing up the Bill of Rights? Mere rhetoric – and the dubious protections offered by our courts.
Regrettably, from the perspective of the Federal Government, fear is a growth industry. The more the public can be made fearful, the vaster federal police powers can grow. The next conservatism should go after the heart of the matter, fear itself. If the rest of the world need no longer fear America, there will be less reason for Americans to fear the rest of the world. If the bulk of police power is local, not federal, Americans will not confront Leviathan when they face a law enforcement officer. It is far easier to approach the town mayor or council with an issue of abuse of police powers than it is to confront a faceless federal bureaucracy.
When isolated “terrorist” events do happen, as they will, the next conservatism might remind the public of an old virtue, one necessary to republics: courage. If we cast our liberties before anyone who offers to “protect us,” like pearls before swine, we will find in short order that we are neither safe nor free.
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