Thursday, June 24, 2004

National Greatness

I stumbled across this long blog entry, which more or less paints conservatives as Klingons, a while ago, and I've found myself thinking quite a bit about it since. I don't buy a lot of it. In particular, the end seems like psychobabble, and doesn't describe any conservatives I know.

But the central idea, that conservatives are seeking "National Greatness" and suspicious of peace and prosperity, which breed complacency and weakness, seems to me to be true.

[UPDATE: Charles Krauthammer just about comes out and says it. Unfortunately, Krauthammer is an unsufferable twit who makes other Republicans look bad. This argument could be made much better.]

I don't think that's as terrible a thing as the blogger I link above makes it out to be, though. The conservatives are probably right that too much happiness is ennervating. They're probably right that it leads to a frivolous, empty pop culture, a pre-occupuation with tabloids and toys and television.

In other words, they're right that war is a force that gives us meaning. And I think conservatives, more than most democrats and centrists, are frustrated with the shortage of meaning in our national life. (Although the far left wing of the democratic party actually shares a lot of that frustration with our shallowness and "sex sells" values. Witness Adbusters. I think if we couldbuy subscriptions to Adbusters and the National Catholic Reporter for everyone in the Muslim world, it would actually help ameliorate the bitterness people there feel toward America a lot, by showing that some people in America resent the same things about American culture as they do. And are almost as powerless to change it, in the end.)

I had a great conversation with my dad the other day (hi, Dad) which I think might represent fairly the feelings of a lot of Republicans on the subject of "National Greatness." He says he wants a president who will say "follow me," as opposed to pandering. Who listens to his advisors and his party and then says, "Thanks for the input, I'm doing it anyway." He says he liked Reagan for the same reason. Leadership. A determination to go down in history as someone who tried big things.

He believes that changing the middle east was a noble goal, and he still admires Bush for trying. He regrets that they couldn't pull it off. He blames Bush himself, and thinks he didn't really know what he was getting into. My democratic friends will disagree with the "noble goal" part, of course, so they won't be as impressed with the rest of it. In fact, I think there is a decent argument to be made for the Iraq war, though I don't think conservatives are making it. It took me a long time to figure out why any intelligent people were supporting this at all. That'll be my next post. I still don't support the war, because I don't think you can achieve the goals they wanted to achieve in this way. But they're not necessarily evil goals, as the democrats tend to assume (I seem to spend a lot of my time explaining republicans to my fellow democrats. Remind me to post my explanations about gay marriage and abortion, one of these days.)

If you're being led toward non-evil goals, there is indeed something attractive about that kind of leadership, which calls upon us to make sacrifices, which does not balk from an ideal just because the approach to it is complicated. That kind of leadership can make us all feel more noble.

So, I think that blog I linked to is right that many conservatives believe armed conflict has some value in and of itself, that it is good for our national character, and right to think that this has a lot to do with why we're in Iraq. But I think it is wrong to judge them so harshly. This veneration of the virtues (or even "virtu") of warriors is as old as civilization. It was conventional wisdom in the Roman empire, and in the Old Testament, and in almost every fantasy novel every written, that battle builds character.

Here is what I wrote in the novel that I'm going to try sell, maybe, someday:

Yolanda has said, "Simon, don't die."

Simon makes a speech: "Life. Yes? You get it for free. You don't have to do anything much to keep it. But then it's not worth anything. It doesn't mean anything. It's like money- it only has value when you spend it. Which explains why war is so popular and always has been. People like to die for a cause. They like to sacrifice their lives- pool them with other people and buy something much more important than any of them could ever purchase one hour at a time. Peacetime, you can spend your life on your family, or your work. But in war, you can buy hundreds of families, the work of centuries. Good bargain, really."

She stared at him. "And what if it doesn't mean anything anyway? What if you give your life and the world is still stupid, and the city still burns?"

He shrugged. "What difference does that make? You still died for the same reasons."

She followed his gaze, stared at his hands with him. Scarred and red from the firelight. She wondered if they were still sore.

"Simon- don't kill."

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