Freedom and Democracy: America’s Ultimate Polytheism
Perhaps the Neo-Conservative hype about “freedom and democracy” as an end in itself must be elevated to the modern pantheon of false gods. This would be a logical conclusion based on the statement in Paris by the new Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, that the founders of the American and French revolutions were inspired by the same values.
This anomaly was surfaced in the April 11, 2005, issue of The American Conservative by Claes G. Ryn, professor of politics at the Catholic University of America and author of America the Virtuous: The Crisis of Democracy and the Quest for Empire. He has long been one of the most perspicacious writers in America because he clearly sees the absurdity of the Neo-Con claim that America’s founders shared the same values as the founders of the French Revolution. In his article, “Jacobin in Chief: Exporting the French Revolution to the World,” he compares the traditionalism of America’s founders with the “assertive, ideologically intense nationalism” that drove the French revolution and its offspring to liberate man in a paroxism of power designed to destroy all inherited societies and beliefs.
Michael Ledeen of the AEI and a kingpin of Neo-Conservativism is quoted as asserting that, “Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our society and abroad.” Irving Kristol, the reputed “godfather” of Neo-Conservativism captures the sentiment perfectly when he proclaims that the United States is “ideological, like the Soviet Union of yesteryear.”
Ryn shrewdly explains the rationale of “democratic capitalism,” which may be the most dangerous force in the world today, far more lethal to civilization that Osama bin Laden and global terrorism could ever be, because it is the primary cause of such terrorism. Ryn writes, “Some of the most pre-eminent neoconservatives caught the revolutionary spirit when they were still Marxists, and despite their ‘second thoughts’ they still harbor a deep desire for remaking the world according to a single model, their model. One of the reasons they are now fond of capitalism is that, like Marx, they conceive of it as an effective destroyer of traditional elites and societies.” He notes that the “protracted war” paradigm of “Neo-Jacobin ideology can be seen as the perfect justification for American imperial power.”
There is an alternative to monopoly capitalism as the engine of globalization, one based not on fear but on hope. This third-way alternative inspired President Ronald Reagan more than anything else other than his “Star Wars” initiative to prevent nuclear war. In order to spell out this alternative, he established the Task Force on Economic Justice in 1985 with Norman Kurland as its Executive Director and me as the Chairman of its Financial Markets Committee. Its voluminous findings and recommendations and track record of accomplishments over the years are available on the webpage of the Center for Economic and Social Justice, www.cesj.org President Ronald Reagan called for a Second American Revolution to transform the institutions of society, including the entire system of money and credit, so that they would reduce the wealth gap rather than increase it, and so that economic democracy would make possible the political democracy that the peoples of the world want and deserve. He was convinced that the many ways of democratizing access to credit for productive enterprises are the only adequate strategy to make the American political system truly representative of individual persons rather than only of special interests.
President Reagan understood that the real causes of terrorism, then as now, are not poverty and oppression per se, but rather the bankrupties of materialist ideologies that promise much but deliver little. He believed that “democratic capitalism” is the ultimate oxymoron, because in practice the political pluralism that should underlie democracy cannot exist in a climate of economic plutocracy. Political monopoly and economic monoply, both in America and globally, are two sides of the same coin, two sides of the same monster.
President Reagan was far ahead of his time in recognizing that both “terrorism” and terroristic counter-terrorism grow out of an awareness that all the dominant paradigms of the twentieth century are bankrupt. In their fear and hopeless rage those who represent these two faces of terrorism will not consider even the possibility of anything else, other than their own blind rampage of destruction. What they do not know is that they are creatures of this bankruptcy. They are part of the problem, not of the solution. Terrorists and their counterparts are products of Western cultural disintegration, even though they will die for the illusion that they are not. This analysis of global politics is spelled out in my lengthy review article, “Taproot to Terrorism: The Loss of Transcendent Law in America and the World, Muslim World Book Review, Summer 2005.
The Second American Revolution called for more than reducing the wealth gap both within and among countries by broadening access to the ownership of future capital formation. Its broader mission was to build on the universal desire for justice. In his first major foreign policy address, on February 22, 1983, to celebrate the birthday of his predecessor, George Washington, President Reagan urged American policy-makers, both Republican and Democrat, to recognize, as he put it, “the central focus of politics - the minds, hearts, sympathies, fears, hopes, and aspirations not of governments, but of people - the global electorate.”
This call for a Second American Revolution has been taken up by a new political party in America (see www.americanrevolutionaryparty.u.s and www.globaljusticemovement.org ). The primary challenge to this initiative comes not from the academic theoreticians who are caught in bankrupt paradigms of thought and therefore cannot conceive of changing any societal institutions. The Just Third Way is challenged especially by those global strategists who fear economic democracy and political democracy because linking these two forms of democracy would promote power from the bottom up. The Neo-Con global strategists are convinced that they can counter a growing global chaos only by imposing their own imperial power from the top down.
Perhaps the greatest irony is that the Founders of America to a man condemned democracy as the worst possible form of government, especially in its radical majoritarian form that posits the collective “people” as the fount of truth and wisdom. They explained that they were attempting to found a republic, which by definition recognizes a higher power than the human as the source of absolute truth and of the transcendent justice which it is the task of the legislators to embody as best they can in law. America’s founders condemned the French revolutionaries not only because they elevated the demos or people to replace God, but because they dared to call their totalitarian democracy a republic.
The modern polytheistic strategists, who worship power as an ultimate end, are convinced that order comes before freedom, despite the opposite spin in their public relations strategy, and that the status quo therefore must be maintained with all of its injustices. They simply do not believe the wisdom of America’s founders who taught that justice is the best cure for chaos and that “freedom” without justice is a fraud. The Neo-Cons cannot even understand why the Founders in the Preamble to the American Constitution listed justice as the first of five purposes for the new polity and listed freedom last.
Claes Ryn contrasts the two views of freedom that are wracking the world today, the Jacobin call for “freedom,” which calls for liberty in the abstract with no real content, and the liberty of America’s godfather, Edmund Burke, and of the Founders of the Great American Experiment, who “associated liberty with particular inherited institutions, limited decentralized government, checks on power, self-restraint, moderation, and a willingness to compromise.” The secular fundamentalist wing of the Neo-Cons similarly cannot understand the tripartite teaching of Thomas Jefferson that only an educated electorate can remain free, that education should consist above all in learning virtue, and that a people can remain free only if all private and public life is suffused with spiritual awareness of higher religion as the origin and purpose of civilization. The Second American Revolution, envisaged by Ronald Reagan, invokes a traditionalism, based on the wisdom of the past, designed to protect against any ideology, no matter how superficially alluring, that by its very nature can result only in unchecked imperial power.
Part of the danger, writes Ryn, is that the universalism in the Neo-Con ideology is in fact a militant nationalism linked to a religious triumphalism driven to save mankind from evil. The only difference between the utopianism two centuries ago and now is that then the savior was France and today it is America. He adds, as Kissinger confirmed on August 12th, 2002, in a nearly full-page op-ed piece in the Washington Post, that the invasion and occupation of Iraq were designed as the first step in creating a new world order based on a new international law designed unilaterally by the United States. Claes Ryn concludes, “This is the ‘freedom’ for which George W. Bush has become the most prominent advocate.”
We could step back from the real war of the worlds by claiming that we can promote justice best by cooperating with the Neo-Conservative ideologicians, but this strategy would admit defeat from the very beginning. It would force us to focus on tactics rather than on strategy in a protracted conflagration that threatens to destroy even the very concept of transcendent justice and the entire purpose of America as a moral model for the world.
Failure to understand the dynamics of twenty-first-century history is why my project to write a series of five volumes, each of 500 or more pages, comparing classical American with classical Islamic thought is usually dismissed as irrelevant to the world today. Perhaps its only relevance to the real world will be as a source for civilizational revival some centuries in the future. Eventually, when the new dark ages are at their darkest, a few courageous people, God willing, may try to learn from the mistakes of the past in order to revive the spiritual wisdom and sense of transcendent justice that have always existed in every world religion and, through the divine mercy, will always be available to those who seek it.