The View From 1776

Public Opinion Is Not the Only Criterion

Legitimacy of foreign policy doesn’t depend upon public opinion, here or abroad.

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An opinion article entitled A Decent Regard, written by Robert Kagan, appeared in the March 2, 2004, edition of The Washington Post.  Kagan acknowledges that many of the specific arguments by liberals against military action in Iraq are not well founded. 

Nonetheless, he says, President Bush can be properly criticized, because, “The problem is, to the liberal democratic mind there is something inherently illegitimate about a unipolar world, regardless of whether the superpower is led by George W. Bush or John F. Kerry…..There are sound reasons why the United States needs European approval, reasons unrelated to international law, the strength of the Security Council and the as-yet nonexistent “fabric of the international order” that some speak of. The main reason has to do with America’s liberal, democratic ideology…..In the end, it is America’s need for international legitimacy that will prove more decisive in shaping America’s course…..In their Declaration of Independence, Americans recognized the importance of paying a “decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” Ever since, Americans have been forced to care what the liberal world thinks by their universalist national ideology….” 

The article raises some interesting points of view.  However, it also raises some disagreements.  First, Mr. Kagan’s article and his connection with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace suggest that his definition of “liberal democracy” is liberal-socialism, not the laissez-faire liberalism of John Locke, Adam Smith, and the founders of this nation.

Kagan’s citation of the Declaration of Independence’s “decent regard for the opinions of mankind” is quite misleading.  Jefferson was essentially quoting John Locke’s Second Treatise and its natural-law justification for our assertion that George III had broken the social compact by usurping our inalienable, natural-law individual rights, just as James II had done in 1689.  In 1776 there was no such thing as the conceit of “public opinion,”  “world opinion,” or “the community of nations” in the socialistic sense of Kagan’s reference.  Kagan appears to be coming from the Marxian thesis of “the workers” as a transnational community, existing apart from individual nations, hence “Workers of the world unite!”  It is that starting point that leads American liberal-socialists to value the UN and the World Court more than our original founding traditions.

Kagan’s idea that world opinion is critical calls to mind the socialistic theory of French Revolutionary philosopher Condorcet and his followers.  Condorcet noted that, with the imposition of socialism in France by the 1789 Revolution, religion, morality, and the monarchy had been destroyed.  No longer was there to be a higher law rooted in the natural-law traditions of Western civilization stretching back to Plato and Aristotle.  Nothing of higher authority existed than the social justice concepts in the minds of intellectuals.  Their ideas and opinions were the ultimate source of legitimacy. 

The intellectuals’ methodology of enforcing that legitimacy with the general public was to be the theretofore unknown instrumentality of public opinion.  And public opinion was to be under the exclusive control of the intellectual councils who were at the apogee of government.  They were to have censorship control over news, Catholic priests were made paid employees of the state, and the new state religion was to be secular and materialistic. 

Most importantly, intellectuals were to control education, so that “nothing but the catechism of social justice might be taught,” per socialism’s codifier, Henri de Saint-Simon.  As foreseen by John Dewey, the father of American socialistic Progressive education, by brain-washing and radicalizing young students for only two to three generations, American socialists have effected a peaceful revolution that totally banishes spiritual religion and personal morality, teaching that salvation of humanity lies in collective, materialistic action by the political state. 

This paradigm naturally leads someone like Mr. Kagan to object to any foreign policy action based on ideology other than that of international socialism.  Note that he gives no tangible reason for the assertion that, “If there is a substantive critique of Bush foreign policy beyond mere Bush-hatred, it is the administration’s failure to win broad international support for the war and for other major policies.The problem the United States faces today is harder to quantify but arguably more profound. It is a problem of legitimacy.”  He merely presumes that the criteria of socialism are the only truth and that all right-thinking people agree with him. 

Opinion, in the liberal-socialist world view, has become the dominant factor, domestically and internationally.  Legitimacy has undergone a complete transformation.  Even foreign policies essential to the survival of the United States can not be judged legitimate unless world opinion supports them.

Opinion obviously matters, but not in the high-minded way presumed by Robert Kagan.  Too often domestic politics, in the guise of public opinion, has dictated foreign policy to the detriment of real American international interests. 

In 1994, after being battered in interim elections that made Newt Gingrich Speaker of the House, President Clinton needed to shore up support among his Left Wing extremist base. Bowing to the demands of the Congressional Black Caucus and citing the ideology of “restoring democracy” in Haiti, he dispatched 20,000 American troops to reinstall Jean-Bertrand Aristide.  Haiti, of course, is a country that never has had so much as five minutes of democratic self-rule in its entire history.  Predictably, the effect was simply to turn out one despot and install another, with the result that most Haitians today hate the United States for supporting the brutal Aristide.  Yet, today again the Black Caucus and John Kerry are demanding that President Bush put the barbaric Aristide back on his autocratic throne, because doing so sounds good from the standpoint of domestic opinion among liberal-socialists.

That, however, is not a kind of legitimacy worthy of pursuit.  Nor is the good opinion, for the wrong reasons, of socialist mobs in the city streets around the world.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/06 at 11:14 PM
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