The Return of Barbarism

How imperialism corrupts the soul of America

by , October 24, 2011

“We came, we saw, he died,” babbled our notoriously bloodthirsty Secretary of State as news of Moammar Gadhafi’s grisly murder hit the headlines. Throwing her arms up in a gesture of mock-triumph, she averred – perhaps sarcastically – that she was “sure” her recent visit to Tripoli had something to do with the Libyan dictator’s death.

It’s hard to imagine a more inappropriate response to the revolting scene of Gadhafi’s last moments, as captured on video: beaten and bloody, propped up on the hood of a jeep and paraded through the streets of Sirte by screeching rampaging savages, these scenes elicited revulsion even from some pro-rebel Libyans. Here’s Andrew Gilligan in the Telegraph on how the ghoulish scene went down:

“In Benghazi, on the main square where it all started, they were slaughtering camels in celebration. There they sat, eight of them, feet tied so they could not move, quivering with fear as they were beheaded one by one. As soldiers fired rifles in the air, members of the cheering crowd held up the severed heads as trophies. They daubed their hands in the camel-blood, and gave the V-for-victory sign with dripping fingers.”

This revolting scene illustrates why “democracy” – in any sense of the term that makes sense to Americans – will never come to Libya, not in a million years. In the politically correct world of our policymakers, and the view of the mainstream media, people all over the world are identical in their essence: they have “rights” that are supposedly universal, and first and foremost among these rights is self-rule. To call any of them savages, as I am doing without apology, is considered “racism,” and to even suggest they will soon revert to their historical pattern of saddling themselves with yet another brutal dictator is derided as “cynicism,” not to mention sour grapes in the face yet another “foreign policy success” by the Obama administration.

Let us look at these “triumphs,” which, one and all, are marked by their lawlessness and bloodthirstiness: the assassination of Osama bin Laden, the drone killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, and now the lynching of Moammar Gadhafi by US-NATO proxies. The distinguishing characteristic of all three acts is barbarism – a studied disregard for the rules of war and the common decencies that define what it means to be civilized.

That a US Secretary of State hailed the horrific death of someone – anyone – the way Hillary Clinton did in the case of Gadhafi would have been almost inconceivable in an earlier era: say, the 1950s or 1960s. That today no one so much as blinks tells us everything we need to know about the age in which we are living: to call it barbaric is to slander barbarians.

Insulated by distance, and inured to “old-fashioned” concepts of right and wrong, Americans are largely indifferent to this evidence of advanced moral degeneration: after all, these things are happening in faraway places, not here in the good old US of A. It’s images on a television screen, or a computer screen: perhaps it is not real at all. They look at these images and turn away – not out of revulsion, but out of ennui. It’s just another day in the life of the American Empire.

Yet that empire is now embarking on a dangerous course, one that involves placing every American – and every Westerner – in mortal danger. In rampaging through the world, imposing “order” and “democracy” on nations that have never understood or experienced either concept, we are unleashing what will turn out to be a whirlwind – one that will surely once again visit our shores in the form of a terrorist act, or, more accurately, an act of retribution against the heedlessly arrogant policymakers who made us a target.

We live in a dangerous world, say the interventionists: that’s why we can’t retreat into our castle and imbibe the joys of what they call “isolationism.” We have a responsibility to exert our “leadership” over the rest of the world – and never mind that all our efforts only increase the danger to ourselves and others.

The peculiar blindness that afflicts our elites – epitomized by Hillary’s unashamed variation on Julius Caesar’s famous phrase – is reflected, I fear, in the population at large. How else does one explain the response to the Obama administration’s recent announcement that the President is – finally! – fulfilling his campaign pledge to get all US troops out of Iraq? In counting on the complete ignorance of the general public as to the crucial context of this announcement – the breakdown in negotiations between Washington and Baghdad over the terms of a “residual” force remaining in country – administration strategists were not far off the mark. The supposedly informed professional pundits, whose job it is to know – and report – the facts, glossed over the deceit of the administration’s grandstanding, even as negotiations with the Iraqis for an extension of the deadline continue.

What both the administration and their sock-puppet pundits are counting on is the complete ignorance – and indifference – of the American public. And in that they are not likely to be disappointed.

Which leads me to my point, and it is this: moral degeneracy and stupidity go hand-in-hand. Whether one is the result of the other, or vice-versa, is for students of evil (evil-ologists?) to determine. I can only observe the growing phenomenon of an almost invincible ignorance that characterizes Americans on every level of the social ladder, from our politicians to ordinary people on the street. You can blame the education system, or the dumbing-down effect many claim to see in the new technology – is it an accident that Twitter, which limits the user to a few words, is the preferred mode of communication among tech-savvy albeit dumb-as-a-brick Americans? However, my thesis is quite different.

The evil is the irrational – a desire to defy the laws of nature and get away with it. It is, in short, the idea that one can cut corners on reality and attain some benefit, usually short-term, without having to endure the inevitably unpleasant consequences. Virtue, on the other hand, is a strict adherence to the natural laws of Reason, a relentless realism in the face of endless temptations to evade or somehow mitigate objective reality.

The American republic was birthed by a group of men who epitomized the old-fashioned realist virtues, and who – for that reason – warned their heirs and legatees against the temptations of militarism and imperialism. In this the Founders reflected the tenor of the times, and the revolutionary spirit of the rebellious colonists – who distrusted all government, but especially the sort lorded over by hubris-besotted monarchs, like King George III, who, in their madness and impiety, could imagine no credible challenge to their rule.

The American empire, on the other hand, was birthed by a series of Presidents – Wilson, both Roosevelts, and every modern chief executive – whose sole concern and “achievement” has been the expansion of government power, at home and abroad. Far from avoiding the temptations of militarism and imperialism, they sought to redefine both as virtuous expressions of “humanitarianism” and devotion to “human rights.” After a long and gloriously peaceful era of prolonged distancing from the quarrels and ambitious schemes of the European colonial powers, the Long Peace ended with the ascent of the first “progressive,” the bombastic Teddy Roosevelt, militant imperialist and Morgan tool, who set the US on a course of empire.

In the “progressive” lingo of the times, the advice of the Founders in regard to foreign wars was derided as archaic. The liberal editors of The New Republic, echoing the rhetoric of the Wilson administration, considered World War I to be a progressive crusade on behalf of liberty and the principle of national self-determination. FDR disdained the “horse and buggy” restraints placed on government by the Constitution, and his “progressive” supporters argued for his foreign policy in similar terms: “isolationism,” they declared, was outmoded by the reality of modern warfare. If we didn’t stop Hitler in Europe, his stormtroopers would soon be marching down Fifth Avenue.

Reviled reactionaries such as Col. Robert McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, argued that Hitler and his blood-brother Stalin should be allowed to destroy each other before the US intervened. (This horrified the progressives of that era, who had abandoned their skin-deep anti-war views when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, and were mainly concerned with protecting their precious “workers’ fatherland.” Remember, this was a time when such mainstream liberal voices as The Nation were defending the Moscow Trials.)

Having erased the boundary between republic and empire, the American giant strode into the postwar era intent on expanding its influence throughout the globe. King George III would have understood.

Yet still there had to be an argument for overriding the Founders’ good advice, and neutralizing what our arrogant elites disdainfully refer to as the natural “isolationism” of the American people. There had to be some external threat, as in World War II, to justify the tremendous expense, in treasure and human lives, of building an overseas empire on a global scale. The cause of anti-fascism had sufficed in the 1930s, but the defeat of the Nazi empire and the humbling of Japan made the creation of new threats an immediate task – which the cause of anti-Communism neatly fulfilled.

This gave the War Party a good half century or so of virtually uncontested political supremacy, in this country and in the West more generally: but the free ride came to an end when the Berlin Wall fell, and the Soviet Empire exploded. Suddenly, there was no red Satan with a sword looming over the Kremlin, no great external force that could possibly be construed as a credible challenge to American power.

With this development, the American elites gloried in what Charles Krauthammer declared to be “the unipolar moment.” The French spoke of America the “hyperpower,” and the neoconservative brain-trusters over at The Weekly Standard proposed that we drop the republican (small-‘r’) pretensions and openly proclaim our imperial ambitions. A much-touted “debate” between Niall Ferguson and Robert Kagan, over whether the US is or should call itself an empire saw little disagreement on the first part of that proposition and mere quibbling over the second. To Western elites, the question isn’t whether they should rule the world, but only if they can afford to openly acknowledge their ambitions.

This kind of arrogance leads inevitably to a paralyzing stupidity because hubris induces a kind of blindness. A megalomaniac, who overestimates his own powers, lives amid an elaborate delusion, a self-enclosed and self-justifying belief system that simply excludes contradictory evidence. In the last days of the American empire, our elites live in a similar bubble, an alternate universe whose boundaries are dictated by narcissism.

This accounts for the surrealistic tone of our political discourse, in which all talk of meaningful cuts in the military budget is disdained as unrealistic, while in the next breath we have a debate over what to do about our impending bankruptcy. It explains not only how Obama can brazenly lie via omission in announcing the withdrawal of US “combat troops” from Iraq, without being called on it, but also how Ron Paul can come under fire for pointing out the obvious: that terrorism is a consequence of having abandoned the foreign policy of the Founders, who warned against going abroad “in search of monsters to destroy.” For our megalomaniacal policymakers, the idea that actions have consequences – and that misguided policies have highly unpleasant consequences – is near treasonous. They are above the law of cause and effect.

In seeking to recover and revive the realism of the Founders’ generation, Rep. Paul has certainly taken on a heroic albeit thankless task, and I don’t envy him. Indeed, some very small part of that burden is on my shoulders, and those of my co-workers here at Antiwar.com, but there are times when I wonder about the odds of achieving even some small measure of success in my lifetime. Because the corruption of the ruling elite, its blindness and narrow-mindedness, seems to be seeping down into the general population to a degree I never imagined.

The major argument of the first anti-imperialists – the organizers of the Anti-Imperialist League, who opposed Teddy Roosevelt’s expansionist ambitions in Cuba and the Philippines – was that imperialism would corrupt our republic, and change the character of our people forever. They feared an American Empire would fatally subvert the republican mindset, which set limits on political power, and unleash our baser instincts. With the addition of subject peoples, who had no concept of limited constitutional government, the American union would lose its uniqueness: the old republican mindset would give way to a political culture that set no limits on government power. They pointed out that the economic interests who benefited from US intervention – in Hawaii, for example, the sugar tycoons – were corrupting the US government, bending American foreign policy to the requirements of their profit margins.

As the Empire enters its second century, this narrative of economic, political, and moral corruption takes on a new dimension: a fresh layer is added to the encrustations left behind by a decadent elite. Arrogance is no longer an upper-class, elite style, and surely you’ve noticed the sense of entitlement that suffuses the Davos crowd has trickled down to the masses, who riot at the very idea that their bankrupt governments can no longer afford to support them cradle-to-grave. Economic and political illiteracy are rife, and as for knowledge of foreign affairs – one might as well be talking about Einstein’s theory of relativity or the latest developments in molecular biology. During the Vietnam war, the details of every development were on every American’s lips: today, I doubt whether one American in five could locate Afghanistan on a map.

Knowledge is disdained, and slogans predominate. Where else but in America could we see the rapid rise of a supposedly conservative anti-tax candidate on the strength of a three-number formula – nine-nine-nine – that actually increases taxes on most ordinary Americans? It’s all about who can come up with the most simplistic phraseology: whether it’s “change,” “nine-nine-nine,” or “a new American century.”

In a republic, citizens take part in the political process out of a sense of duty, and self-protection. They make it a point of honor to understand the issues, and knowledge, for them, is power. In an empire, however, things are quite different: since the citizens can only influence the course of events to a limited degree, if that, little emphasis is put on acquiring knowledge, and more on acquiring power and influence with the powers that be. If one is aligned with a rising faction, as opposed to siding with the losers, then that’s all one needs to know, and no further investigation is required. Politics, then, is reduced to a battle between rival factions over who gets what share of the loot.

This accounts for the increasing emphasis on the “horse-race” aspect of politics in the media, and the lack of any real debate over principles and policies. It accounts, indeed, for the dumbing down of American politics, and the cheapening of the discourse in recent years. Indeed, I would take this analysis of the dumbing down phenomenon much further, and venture to say that the intelligence of American people, in general, has undergone a precipitous decline. I’m not just saying they’re less educated than ever, although one could make that case: I’m saying they have less intellectual capacity than previous generations, and this trend shows no signs of abating. Quite the contrary, it seems to be getting worse.

How did this happen? We return to the link between virtue and rationality – and the nature of evil as inherently irrational. A President who can hail a death as brutal and bloody as Gadhafi’s, a Secretary of State who can shriek her appreciation of such a revolting spectacle – these are not marginal exceptions to the general rule. Instead, these responses are reflective of America’s inner cultural and political rot – an America that long ago betrayed the Founders, ditched realism, and is now the complete captive of a debilitating madness.

As the Obama administration outdoes its predecessor in its relentless pursuit of empire, what we are witnessing is the return of barbarism, open and unashamed. It is the culmination of a trend that has been long in the making, and one that will go unnoticed as long as it continues – because evil, after all, is blind to its own nature.

Read more by Justin Raimondo