Tuesday, January 24, 2006

This is not what democracy looks like

In an interview with Salon, the French writer Bernard-Henri Levy, widely hailed as a new Tocqueville,* lends support to the bizarre myth that the neocons are democratic idealists.
I far prefer the neoconservatives, like Kristol, to someone like Pat Buchanan, who is fascist. I far prefer the neoconservative idea of spreading democracy all over the world, to Buchanan, who says that people in the rest of the world don't deserve democracy... [Why do I like them?] Because they are democrats. Because they believe in democracy. They believe in a naive way. They believe sometimes in an absurd way. But I much prefer a neoconservative who believes in democracy to an isolationist who believes in America only.
He is not alone. Serious critics of the Bush administration have occasionally pushed this line as well. In otherwise superb and critical articles, Seymour Hersh has several times remarked that he thought Bush was an idealistic, albeit delusional, champion of democracy.
I'm one of those people who believes that Bush really did go to war to free the Middle East and turn these nations into democracies. I don't think he went to war for oil primarily or Israel. He went because he has this idee fixe that it was his mission, his crusade to change the Middle East to turn it into a democratic stronghold of good, well-meaning people who would buy American and support Israel against the Palestinians and keep the oil flowing.

It's idealistic. It's utopian.

Is there anything more dangerous than an ideologue who doesn't know he's wrong?

I frankly find such generous interpretations utterly out of touch with reality. Bush is no Don Quixote, nor is any of his supporters.

Yes, of course they say that they are doing it for democracy, but then again democracy is the indispensable idiom of legitimation in the modern world, behind which may be concealed any and all agendas. Why take them at their word? Surely some evidence beyond mere rhetoric is required.

Writing back in 1978, British political philosopher John Dunn remarked

We are all democrats today. Mr Callaghan, and Madam Mao, Mr. Brezhnev and President Amin, Mr. Trudeau and even Mr Vorster...Democracy, then, may once have been the name of a particular form of regime...but now it is the name for the good intentions of states or perhaps for the good intentions which their rulers would like us to believe they possess.
So when we see the Bush regime embrace the vocabulary of democracy with a missionary fervor, it is only right to be a bit skeptical. And when the regime's most passionate advocates, neocons like Richard Perle or the loathsome Christopher Hitchens, champion its idealism and support of democracy, it is only right to ask--what do these words mean in their mouths?

After all this is a regime that openly advocates and practices torture, carries out extrajudicial rendition, maintains a global network of secret prisons, assassinates guilty and innocent alike, ignores domestic and international law, and holds virtually no one accountable for crimes committed in its name. This, plus a couple of demonstration elections. What the Bush regime is spreading across the globe is plain for all to see, and this is not what democracy looks like.

Still, the marriage of the language of democratic idealism to this most blatant practice of cruelty and domination should come as no surprise in a regime that openly confesses contempt for the reality based view of the world. But why on earth should anyone else take their flattering self-descriptions seriously?

Perhaps I am too cynical. Perhaps in their heart of hearts, Bush and his supporters sincerely believe that they are doing it all for democracy. And if a rapist professes to be motivated by love, is there any less reason to take him seriously?

* There is a positive review of Levy's book here and in the Salon interview cited above. Marianne Wiggins, novelist and Salman Rushdie's ex, gives it a rather harsh review here. For some discussion see Pime Forest Collective.

Update: Needlenose has a useful timeline on the rhetoric and reality of Bush's alleged "goal of promoting democracy" in Iraq.


At 2/01/2006 1:33 PM, Blogger Dr. Hulbeck said...

I think that the answer lies in the classic "Doublethink" idea -- after all, it's much easier to maintain two opposing thoughts in one's head and believe both if you can delegate part of the thinking. Bush doesn't have to torture anybody himself. As long as he doesn't have to be in the same room with it means he can marginalize its meaning. Bush believs in Jesus, I'm sure; he also believes in revenge, getting rich, and not turning the other cheek. It's faith as schizophrenia.

At 2/01/2006 2:59 PM, Blogger velid said...

Yes. Doublethink may well be an important part of it.

Certainly, this could help explain how a great many of the legions of Bush supporters somehow apparently manage to continue to believe that they are doing something noble.

Still, I think the rapist analogy is quite to the point here. There is a sufficient disjunction here between abstract idealistic descriptions of their own motivation and the bloody concrete reality of policy and practice that these self-descriptions, however sincere, simply can not be taken seriously.

At this stage, I think the problem is not so much political as psychiatric.

This is why I view Levy's comments about the neocons as, frankly, not even shallow.


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