Kagan: Knowledge Is Elitist

Robert Kagan says it’s elitist to expect a President of the United States to be knowledgeable about national security issues:

Robert Kagan, a foreign policy advisor to McCain, derided criticisms of Palin as elitist.

“I don’t take this elite foreign policy view that only this anointed class knows everything about the world,” he said. “I’m not generally impressed that they are better judges of American foreign policy experience than those who have Palin’s experience.”

Based on the structure of the situation, it’s plausible that Kagan is just being opportunistically dishonest here and trying to say something useful to the Republican ticket. But based on having read Kagan’s work over the years, I think that’s wrong and he’s absolutely being honest. Kagan, like most neoconservatives, thinks that in-depth knowledge of foreign countries and the politics and culture of foreign societies isn’t helpful in thinking about foreign policy questions. Similarly, they believe that in-depth knowledge of theoretical and empirical work in the field of international relations isn’t helpful. Indeed, they think that this kind of in-depth knowledge is actually harmful. They prefer the judgment of people who have little knowledge of the outside world but do possess a degree of gut-level nationalism.


Since most Americans do possess a degree of gut-level nationalism and don’t possess much understanding of the world beyond our borders, it’s difficult politically to mount an argument against Kagan-style celebration of ignorance. But at the same time, the fact that a substantial swathe of the conservative policy elite thinks this way explains an enormous amount about why things have gone wrong in our foreign policy.