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How ‘conservatives’ became the war party

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The only thing that can overcome the stupidity of modern-day progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the 24 people contending for the 2020 presidential nomination of the Democratic Party is an understanding of the price—and the consequences — of the policies that they preach. Progressive policy is expensive, very expensive, and a wise person should be extremely reluctant to spend other people’s money on utopian schemes like the Green New Deal. But people are not wise, and that is why America is on the fast track to socialism. From my point of view, if Karl Marx’s socialism will never work out, a very particular modality — corporatist liberalism that erases the walls between those who possess political power and those who have economic power, therefore creating a relentless ruling class — is already a fait accompli.

Last week, Barack Obama was in Brazil and spoke to an audience of the well-heeled — speech-fees have been undisclosed. The very progressive Obama pleased his audience with a lot of buzzwords typical of college students. According to him, it is vital to invest in education because education is the key to social development. You don’t say! I would not pay to listen to such nonsense, especially when we keep in mind that Obama’s educational policies were a resounding disaster. The politically correct policy-makers in the Department of Education, since its creation by Jimmy Carter, have made American public education an international joke. To the surprise of no one, minorities and the poor were disproportionately affected by the disaster of public policies “in favor” of education. If Education Secretary Betsy DeVos can reverse the trend, she deserves canonization.

Obama also said entrepreneurs should be happy to pay taxes. It is possible to make the most diverse interpretations of his statement. In the liberal-corporatist state, the bourgeoisie pay for the government to keep the people on a leash, for example, avoiding popular complaint through that old Roman policy called “bread and circuses” — rebranded by  Great Society’s liberals as the policy of “butter and bullets.” And I do not doubt that many titans of the American industries and finances agree with Obama. They adore the too-big-to-fail philosophy, glorify privatization of profits and socialization of losses and, at last, they cry out for bail-outs at the slightest sign of danger.

Moreover, they do not like paying taxes, they like the idea of others paying taxes — expensive consulting firms always find a way to exploit loopholes in the laws, finding means for their clients not paying taxes at all. The burden of Obama’s ideas, and those of other progressives, lay on the middle-class’ shoulders.

Among the traditional American left, there was a particular concern towards the middle-class’ well-being. Misguided as their policies were, many American progressives sew themselves as champions of the middle-class, of the “Common Joe,” against the spurious interest of the wealthy bourgeoisie. Elizabeth Warren’s The Two-Income Trap is a good book and, in many aspects, takes a stand against much of the modern-day politically correct nonsense. Published in 2003, her book is nowadays, like the pyramids in Giza, a relic from a distant past — I doubt that even Sen. Warren has warm words to say about her earlier work. As of 2019, progressives care more about taking down “farting cows” to “save” the climate than anything else.

The only thing the government does efficiently — without match in the private sector — is to destroy wealth and not to distribute it. The market is much more efficient in enriching people than the government will be no matter what and this is not wishful thinking.

The greatest money-grinding machine ever created is the government, and the main way the government has to do it is through wars.

Wars not only destroy wealth on an incomparable scale, but they also spread the seeds of social chaos. War never ends, it just transforms into something different. World War I not only ended the era of free trade that preceded it but also promoted chaos across the European peoples by eroding the power of the multi-ethnic empires. Reflect on that war and you may conclude that without Somme and Tannenberg, and Jutland and Gallipoli, there would be no Russian Revolution, Nazism, and ethnic cleansing of Jews and Armenians. Consequently, there would be neither Mao Zedong and the Great Leap Forward, nor Pol Pot and Camps of Death nor Joseph Stalin and the Red Famine.

The question of war more than any other is the one that really defines who are the conservatives and the revolutionaries in a given society and also explains how modern American “conservatism” has lost the notion of reality, and the United States has gotten on the fast track to socialism.

Progressives always use war as a means to advance their reforms and disregard social and human costs. One of the most ardent supporters of the war against Germany in 1914, the liberal-imperialist Winston Churchill, in the words of Henry Herbert Asquith’ daughter Violet Bonham Carter, “never saw a war he did not want to get into.” The English conservatives, many of them Germanophiles, saw with the horror of the powerless, and not with joy, the events that dragged the British Empire — a maritime power — to a war of armies in the continent.

In Sean McMeekin’s The Russian Revolution: A New History, we can see clearly how conservatives and liberals understand the war issue as well. While the more progressive, liberal and Westernizing elements of St. Petersburg pushed the Tsar to avoid any possibility of peace with Germany before or after 1914; conservatives and reactionaries, the “mad monk” Grigori Rasputin at the head, begged Nicholas II not to be seduced by the ideas of the Liberals because the fate of the Romanov dynasty and the Russian peasantry’ well-being  were at stake. Until his assassination in 1916, Rasputin was intractably against war and a prophet of peace. The Tsar only bent to the clamor of the Liberals in dragging Russia into an insane war against his cousin the Kaiser Wilhelm II because, in early August 1914, Rasputin was in his hometown in Siberia recovering from a knife attack (sponsored by a conspiracy of Liberals).

Had Rasputin prevailed, millions of innocent lives would have been spared.

The progressive, to borrow a concept from Sir Roger Scruton, is an unscrupulous optimist. He does not care about the effects of his actions because what matters is having good intentions, being moral. The conservative, on the other hand, sees the world through the lens of existential fatalism and political realism. For him, social arrangements are very fragile and should not be subject to experimentation. In other words, conservatives always care about the price to be paid for.

Conservatives and reactionaries alike tend to see war, to paraphrase Carl von Clausewitz, as a revolution by other means. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Prussian nobility and German Catholics were those who for the most time opposed Hitler’s revolutionary ambitions. According to Niall Ferguson:

For all the attention that has been paid to them, the machinations of the coterie around Hindenburg were not the decisive factor, as those of the Italian elites had been in 1922. If anything, they delayed Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor, an office that was rightfully his after the July 1932 election. It was not the traditional elite of landed property that was drawn to Hitler; the real Junker types found him horribly coarse. (When Hitler shook hand with Hindenburg, one conservative was reminded ‘of a headwaiter closing his hands around the tip’) Nor it was the business elite, who not unreasonably feared that National Socialism would prove a Trojan horse for socialism proper; nor the military elite, who had every reason to dread subordination to an opinionated Austrian corporal. The key to the strength and dynamism of the Third Reich was Hitler’s appeal to the much more numerous intellectual elite; the men with a university degree who are so vital to the smooth running of a modern state and civil society.

The old American Right was also ferociously anti-interventionist first and foremost because the socio-political price to be paid to turn the United States into a new empire was too high. They, the early American conservatives, saw in the federal administration’s warmongerism the most bitter and cruel expression of the Progressive Era. On the other hand, progressives understood the idea of war as a means to accelerate social reform.

Were all progressives in favor of war? No, but those who were not — like Sen. Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin and William Jennings Bryan — distrusted the war because they were populists and, notwithstanding social reform ambitions, feared the power of Washington and the corporations that at the early Twentieth century were already dictating the rules. Like Rasputin, they were people’s men.

However, from World War II until the fall of the Berlin Wall, anti-communism became the primary practical expression of the American Right. Not that being anti-communist was a problem per se — and, to be fair, many liberal were vociferously anti-communists. However, the more radical the idea that international communism should be defeated no matter what it cost grew; the higher became the readiness of American conservatives to accept the expansion of government power and the ascendency of the military–industrial complex.

The anti-communist struggle was the excuse used by the conservative mainstream led by Bill Buckley to purge all enemies of the militarization of America. The members of the John Birch Society, always on the lookout for conspiracies, were expelled from the conservative tent for opposing American intervention in Vietnam, and the libertarian thinker Murray Rothbard met the same fate soon.

In the 1980s, the Reagan Era consolidated belligerent ideas as synonymous with Americanism. Forgetting President Dwight Eisenhower’s advice, Democrats and Republicans alike embraced the philosophy of liberal imperialism, economic corporatism, unbridled consumerism, and endless debt. The Americans in Washington, in summary, started behaving like the hubris-dominated Romans of J. M. Coetzee’s poem Waiting for the Barbarians.

In the post-Cold War United States, the Let’s-turn-America-in-an-Empire process got worse. In the 1990s, Russell Kirk was also marginalized by the increasingly influential neoconservatives, who advocated the imperial expansion of the United States along ideological lines and saw him as a too aristocratic relic incompatible with the ferocious egalitarianism of the liberal democracy.

Overpowering real conservatives, the establishment imposed on the people a single party regime, the war party, in which no matter how the people vote, the imperialists who control the leverage of power will never be defeated.

The triumph of the Left was mainly due to the reshaping of the American Right as a movement of liberals who, like the old Jacobins, wanted to reform the world according to the formula “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” In the pre-Reagan America, conservatism was rooted in such figures as Kirk, Frank Meyer, and James Burnham; after Reagan, Max Boot, Bill Kristol, and Jennifer Rubin became the new faces of the Right. The American Right lost the war for the soul of the United States on the day liberal warmongers came to be called conservatives.

Homepage picture: public domain

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Silvio Simonetti Silvio Simonetti is a Brazilian lawyer, graduated in international affairs from the Bush School at Texas A & M University. He is currently a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. Silvio loves history and the Catholic Church.

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