Universalism and Particularism in Neoconservatism

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"Universalism and Particularism in Neoconservatism"

Justin Vaïsse, the French scholar and former official, has a nice calm piece in Foreign Policy debunking the “Eurabia” hype that’s so popular on the American right. For those who’ve followed this issue, however, perhaps the most interesting thing about the piece is the response it’s provoked from folks on the right.

Max Boot liked the piece (and here) whereas Mark Steyn fires back at Vaïsse with a series of randomly cherry-picked facts.

This diverge of views reflects some underlying disagreements on the hawkish right about why, exactly, the United States of America needs to attempt a policy of worldwide military domination. On the one hand, we’re offered universalistic rationales, things like Bush’s second inaugural address:

From all of you, I have asked patience in the hard task of securing America, which you have granted in good measure. Our country has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfill, and would be dishonorable to abandon. Yet because we have acted in the great liberating tradition of this nation, tens of millions have achieved their freedom. And as hope kindles hope, millions more will find it. By our efforts, we have lit a fire as well – a fire in the minds of men. It warms those who feel its power, it burns those who fight its progress, and one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world.

Thus on this view we need to occupy a long list of Muslim-majority countries in order to bring those lands the blessings of freedom and liberalism to which they aspire. On the other hand, you have people like Martin Peretz, who also favor many occupations of Muslim-majority countries. Accept on his view the reason for these wars is that Muslims are a warlike folk whose values are incompatible with ours.

Boot’s reaction reflects the universalistic impulse and Steyn’s the particularist one. But relatively few hawks manage to hue consistently to one side of this line or another. So we’re left with the paradox of a political movement that insists on the need for dramatic pro-democracy measures, including hugely costly invasions, even while it also insists on completely ignoring the actual expressed views of the world’s Muslims.

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