Monday, January 17, 2005

A true liberal

Thomas Friedman in the New York Times concludes his opinion column with this paragraph:
Before the war, I said of Iraq, "We break it, we own it." Today, my motto is, "If they own it, they'll fix it." America's standing in the Muslim world will improve, not when we get a better message, but when they have more control. People with the responsibility and opportunity to run their own lives focus on their own lives - not on us. More of that would be a very good thing.

This last observation is poignant, and answers one of the main criticisms of the internationalist left. They say that the world hates us because of what we do and how we present ourselves, and that if only we would constrain our “hubristic” and “imperialistic” behaviors, and conform to relevant international laws and norms, then this hate would dissipate.

Friedman here is saying that, yes, they do hate us, but simply “get[ting] a better message” out is not going to change that. No P.R. campaign will make the world love us. I agree with Friedman; saying that a new message would make anti-American feelings evaporate assumes that these feelings are rational, and so can be answered and spoken to rationally. This is simply not the case. Anti-Americanism in the Muslim world is not rational.

Because these views are not rational, and so cannot be answered directly, their source must be cut off. Where do people acquire this irrational hatred of America? From the various totalitarian states that use America as an escape valve to release the pent up anger and agitation of a people living under a repressive police state. This is a tactic common to all totalitarian regimes—the promoting of an external threat to rally the people to their government. Friedrich Hayek (one of the intellectual heros of modern conservatism) wrote on this in his masterful Road to Serfdom:

It seems to be almost a law of human nature that it is easier for people to agree on a negative program—on hatred of an enemy, on the envy of those better off—than on any positive task. The contrast between the “we” and the “they,” the common fight against those outside the group, seems to be an essential ingredient in any creed which will solidly knit together a group for common action. It is consequently always employed by those who seek, not merely support of a policy, but the unreserved allegiance of huge masses. From their point of view it has the great advantage of leaving them greater freedom of action than almost any positive program. The enemy, whether he be internal, like the “Jew” or the “kulak,” or external, seems to be an indispensable requisite in the armory of a totalitarian leader.
Deposing a totalitarian government not only stops it from disseminating anti-American propaganda and indoctrinating its citizens in various other ways, but the resulting freedom of the populace also alleviates anti-Americanism simply by giving the people something more important to think about. Friedman writes earlier in his column:

So I don't want young Muslims to like us. I want them to like and respect themselves, their own countries and their own governments. I want them to have the same luxury to ignore America as young Taiwanese have - because they are too busy focusing on improving their own lives and governance, running for office, studying anything they want or finding good jobs in their own countries.
If they have the freedom to choose between dwelling on anti-American hatred and getting a job and advancing their lives, the result will likely be good for America and good for the citizens themselves.

As I have wrote on before, the war on terror is essentially an anti-totalitarian one, and thus an inherently liberal endeavor. This is the only viable, long-term solution to such an intractable and amorphous problem as terrorism. While in the short term we will face international criticism, scorn and contempt, this should only reaffirm our stance. We are radically restructuring the world, so powers such as France, Germany, Russia and China, which benefit from the status quo, will naturally be angered.

There are always conservative forces that act against the forward thrust of progress, fearful as they are of change and losing what they now possess. It is then that the true liberal emerges, and forges onward against the sway of reactionary opinion. It’s comforting that some self-proclaimed “liberals,” like Friedman here for example, can see this.

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