The following is a response to Greg Lawson's insightful comment about Theodore Roosevelt.

Theodore Roosevelt may have been a believer in “Machtpolitik,” but for all the flaws typically mentioned with respect to such views, the world does seem to require some relative stability. Clearly, there will always be problems and an element of anarchy in contrast to the views of legalistic liberal internationalists who believe law will solve all problems if adhered to. At the same time, having a power that can tilt in ways that keep “Great Power” conflict of the sort seen in 1914 and 1939 in check, must be seen as mostly, if not absolutely, a positive thing.

It wasn't that long ago, when the conservative mantra was "don't immanentize the eschaton!" Boy, how times have changed.

The wisdom in not "trying to create heaven here on Earth" is of course, the inherent acceptance that we are mere human. Today however, the fatal conceit has convinced conservatives to micro-manage the globe. A radical departure from the Old Right.

With that in mind, one must raise the question whether the complexity of global affairs necessitates a strong Executive to deal with rapidly developing issues with speed, discretion, and, perhaps depending on the circumstances, secrecy.

If you stop and think about it for a moment, "a strong Executive" is a radical change from our original principles. After 234 years of Lockean natural rights, we're being asked to adopt Hobbes instead. Up with Hobbes, down with Locke!

Sorry, but a "strong Executive" is simply too risky. Power has a horrible track record.

It is a perennial question of history whether a Republic can maintain it’s republican character as its interests expand to include larger and larger geographic areas thus forcing the republic into the realm of geopolitical calculation. History has not given us a conclusive answer at this point.

I'd say history shows that a Republic can't "maintain it's republican character as its interests expand to include larger and larger geographic areas." So the real argument is then, Republican Virtue vs. Geopolitical Calculation.

This is why the Old Right is antiwar. Geopolitical calculation is just another fatal conceit. Technocrats are not gods.

However, to attempt to shed the geopolitical responsibility once attained cannot be the response for those that want to retain the Republic. Rather, we should reexamine where our lost virtue has gone, for it is the lack of virtue, more than any other single cause, that erodes the ability of man to freely govern himself.

Our virtue was lost when we replaced Locke with Hobbes. For the non-nerds among us, let's look at the main differences.

John Locke vs. Thomas Hobbes

Human Nature

Locke: Man is by nature a social animal who mostly keeps his promises and honors his obligations. Generally, life is peaceful, good, and pleasant.
Hobbes: Man by nature is not a social animal, but a nasty, brutish animal. Society exists only by the power of the state.

Natural Law

Locke: Men are born free, equal and independent.
Hobbes: To survive, humans must obey the commands of religious and government rulers.

Locke: Humans know what is right and wrong, and are capable of knowing what is lawful and unlawful well enough to resolve conflicts. In particular, they are capable of telling the difference between what is theirs and what belongs to someone else.
Hobbes: Our knowledge of objective, true answers on such questions is so feeble, we cannot resolve practical disputes. Property exists solely by the will of the state and disputes are resolved accordingly.

Locke: Men have rights by their nature.
Hobbes: You concede your rights to the government (in return for your life).

Conflict

Locke: Peace is the norm, as it should be. For the most part, we live together in peace by refraining from violating each other’s property and persons.
Hobbes: Men cannot know good and evil, and can only obtain peace through subjection to the authority of a common ruler.

Civil Society

Locke: Civil society precedes the state, both morally and historically. Society creates order and grants the state legitimacy.
Hobbes: Civil society is a creation of the state.

Government

Locke: The only legitimate role of the state is to guarantee justice.
Hobbes: The concept of the just use of force is meaningless or cannot be known. Just use of force is whatever force is authorized

Liberty is the mother of virtue. Liberty creates self-sustaining order. Just look around you, it's the state who creates chaos.

We need to slow down this grand experiment in Big Government and be conservative. You know, as in cut back and play it safe.

  • http://www.gregrlawson.com Greg R. Lawson

    Good post. I appreciate the thoughtful response. I do feel compelled to respond.

    I admit that I am not as much on the libertarian side of things. I see the world as an ultimately dangerous place and that the progressive vision of an international order founded upon Kantian ideals and legalisms is deeply flawed and will fail.

    Power is coin of the realm in international relations. Obviously, "power" is a diffuse concept that incorporates far more than the mere presence of superior firepower and even state power per se, but firepower is highly relevant. I think history shows that all balances of power breakdown and that benign oversight is the best alternative where regional balances can be made or broken by the "Great Power" as needed to avoid a generalized breakdown of order.

    Even this, I acknowledge, is not a panacea nor does it avoid serious problems. This is because I think mankind is ultimately tragic in its corporeal form and can only be redeemed by God. In the present, earthly existence, however, we cannot assume that God is on our side and we must take actions that defend our interests, even our enlarged interests with the hope that we will some day understand more fully what God intends for us.

    The famed Athenian statesman Pericles stated in Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War, "Nor is it any longer possible for you to give up this empire ... Your empire is now like a tyranny: it may have been wrong to take it; it is certainly dangerous to let it go. "

    Whether we wanted this or not, we got it after the conflagration of World War II when Europe and much of Asia lay prostrate. We then led a philosophical and quasi-military struggle against the Soviets for a generation. In the end, we emerged again, in the post-Cold War era as the sole Superpower, irrespective of our intent.

    To retrench could be the right thing to do. But it wasn't after World War I and it was realized not to be the right thing to do after World War II. Perhaps, the rise of new powers will make now the right time. Certainly this is Obama's narrative, the narrative of much of the academic left and the narrative of the somewhat, neo-isolationist right.

    However, power tends to fill vacuums that are created. If not us, who will be the next arbiter of global issues? China? Brazil? Turkey? Europe? Japan? Or, if power fails to fill the vacuum, does that portend a democratization and more egalitarian world order that will be amenable to the progressive mindet where power will, for the first time in history, matter less than values despite the difficulty of universalizing those values in a way that will allow Chinese, Americans, Arabs, Israelis, etc, etc to imbibe the same culture. Or will the vacuum herald a neo-Middle Ages except this time, combined with the Golden Age of Proliferation that is undeniably ocurring before our eyes, the Vandals, Goths and Vikings will be superempowered with nuclear, chemical and, perhaps, most troubling biological weapons?

    Again, I admit, I find the Hobbesian State of Nature a compelling explanation for man when stripped of his cultivation and/or access to Divine love. I am not arguing for the full blown "Global Leviathan", but I do argue that in our best moments, the US has done more good than any other great power in world history and that our retrenchment may not end well for those who have been born into the current era and largely (though far from absolutely) protected under our auspices.

    I also must say that I do disagree that Liberty creates a self sustaining order. Liberty without virtue descends into anarchy which actually then ascends into the still troubling, but more stable status of authoritarianism.

    The virtue must come first and it must be a Burkean virtue of embraced tradition and modulated progress as opposed to a Rousseau based virtue of radical, "immanentize the eschaton" type social engineering (also, recall that Jefferson was a fan of the French Revolution despite the fact that it descended into the anarchy of Robespierre).

    Unlike a neoconservative, I do not buy into the "democratic peace theory". Unlike a progressive, I do not believe in totalizing solutions to human problems because they are endemic to the human condition. Unlike a member of the "old right," I do not believe we can ignore the problems of the world and assume order will spontaneuously emerge becuase of a Lockean belief that peace is the norm for human affairs.

    I am conservative because it is order that I believe to be the sine qua non of relative peace. Liberty can augment this, but it is not, in my humble estimation, the foundation for peace when taken solely on its own. I remain open to the hope that God and transcendence can bring, but feel that may not be able to be the guide for all decisions made here and now.