The Spell of Interventionism

In his biography of Thomas Jefferson, Old Right bohemian Albert Jay Nock had this to say about Jefferson’s seemingly unyielding faith in the benefits of education as a check against authoritarianism:

“Throughout his life, Mr. Jefferson consistently maintained that “the most effectual means of preventing the perversion of power into tyranny are to illuminate so far as possible the minds of the people.”  He had no doubt that “if a nation expects to be ignorant and free…it expects what never was and never will be.”  He seems never to have suspected, however, the ease with which mere literacy is perverted, and that it is therefore quite possible for a literate people to become much more ignorant than an illiterate people – that a people of well-perverted literacy, indeed, is invincibly unintelligent.”

This seems to clearly describe what those who are antiwar encounter when making the case for noninterventionism: someone we know and respect as highly intelligent, with solid opinions on every aspect of life, who will yet hold sentiments that nevertheless align with an interventionist foreign policy.  It usually has the tone of what I’ve heard most often, that goes something like, “the problem with Vietnam was that we pulled out too soon”, or “our troops were too constrained by the rules of engagement to fight effectively”, or “it’s our duty to help that group that’s about to be massacred”.  They may not even be of the militantly pro-war persuasion, but their casual acceptance of interventionist rhetoric by the politicians they support leads them to perpetuating the war machine.  The consistent thread through all their thinking on foreign policy seems to be that something always SHOULD be done.  To do nothing never occurs to them, and if it does, it is equated with “the enemy wins”.

It’s as if we’re speaking a foreign language, and the looks on their faces range from incomprehension to rage.  It seems as if they will remain forever beyond the reach of noninterventionist arguments.  What causes this?  Why do those who we regard as the best and brightest in society lend their support to enhancing the Health of the State?  The less educated among us support the War State as well, when wrapped in the gold leaf of Nationalism.  By why the educated?  Is it because of the deluge of pro-interventionist material when one even attempts to gain a slight understanding of world affairs?  Is it the interventionist propaganda that we are subject to from our first day in school? 

When you think on it, though, it becomes apparent that coming to the cause of non-interventionism is no easy step.  Support for interventionism, on the other hand, is second nature.  To start with, everyone around you already supports interventionism to some extent, and the antiwar are ridiculed.  To intervene also satisfies our instinctive inability to trace out the secondary consequences of military action.  It is only by a Herculean act of moral transformation that most of us come to the cause non-interventionism in the first place.  Many grew up associating interventionism with our national symbols, as well as associating “Anti-American” with all those damn America-hating war protesters.  It’s cultural, but it’s also egged on by the State that feeds on it. 

And the tyranny at home that is a byproduct of our foreign intervention, advances at such a leisurely pace that it’s ignored.  As Chris Coyne and Abigail Hall detail in Perfecting Tyranny: Foreign Intervention as Experimentation in State Control, US foreign interventions are just trial runs of what will eventually be directed at us, the citizens, in what they dub the “boomerang effect”.  The tactics used by our soldiers in the Mideast, will tomorrow be enshrined as standard procedure by our local police.  But the tyranny we’ll suffer tomorrow is never traced back to the techniques perfected on a foreign battlefield.  The surveillance, crowd control, weapons of war, as well as the military mindset, is never seen as inextricably linked to our continuous military intervention. 

In Battlestar Galactica, William Adama illustrates a principle that should be repeated daily by members of a free society:

“There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.”

As militarism continues overseas, law enforcement continues its transformation into a domestic military.  The implicit aim of law enforcement transforms from protecting the people, to protecting the State.  This is intertwined with our foreign policy.  But in our modern, present-oriented culture, tracing this back to militarism is impossible for most.  And it clashes with the prejudice in favor of intervention.

It’s a spell, and it’s almost impossible to break.  For most, it would take an effort too great, with the only reward knowing that almost everyone around you is perpetuating a nightmare for those around the globe, for freely lending their consent as citizens to the unleashing of death and chaos on some distant land.  It’s far easier to allow the language of the political class lull our moral selves to sleep and let the Warfare State have what it wants.

As Cypher said, when speaking to Agent Smith:

“I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious…ignorance is bliss.”

It’s easy to believe an easy lie.  It’s easier to believe the pleasant illusion that US military might is a force for good in the world, than wake up in a vat only to see clearly the machine you had been a slave to, and see your fellow citizens still a slave, and forever beyond your reach. 

What’s to be done?  While difficult, resisting interventionism isn’t futile.  Ron Paul’s twin Presidential bids proved that minds can be changed.  I have Paul to thank for my conversion, and I can’t believe that it’s impossible to effectively communicate the principles that would restrain and starve the Warfare State.  Communicating non-interventionism successfully seems to hinge on stepping over the emotional tripwires that many have subconsciously erected in their minds to block a change of opinion on war and peace.  It means using language that is relatable to the specific person.  It also means not wasting time on those who are forever beyond the reach of argument.  It also means having patience, coaxing someone toward non-interventionism, allowing them to follow the logic of non-interventionism for themselves, rather than running roughshod over their objections.  

Patience and optimism, these are our weapons in the battle for the hearts and minds of the people living in the decadent Empire.  Maybe it’s futile, be we should act as if it’s possible to break the spell, to turn the tide of opinion.  If it can happen to me, it can happen to others.

Read more by Shane Smith