11 Oct 2007

Defending Bush’s Wilsonianism

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Michael Gerson, in the Washington Post, tells conservatives why Americans should be willing to fight for other peoples’ freedom.

In the backlash against President Bush’s democracy agenda, conservatives are increasingly taking the lead. It is inherently difficult for liberals to argue against the expansion of social and political liberalism in oppressive parts of the world — though, in a fever of Bush hatred, they try their best. It is easier for traditional conservatives to be skeptical of this grand project, given their history of opposing all grand projects of radical change.

Traditional conservatism has taught the priority of culture — that societies are organic rather than mechanical and that attempts to change them through politics are like grafting machinery onto a flower. In this view, pushing for hasty reform is likely to upset some hidden balance and undermine the best of intentions. Wisdom is found in deference to tradition, not in bending the world to fit some religious or philosophic abstraction, even one as noble as the Declaration of Independence.

A conservatism that warns against utopianism and calls for cultural sensitivity is useful. When it begins to question the importance or existence of moral ideals in politics and foreign policy, it is far less attractive.

At the most basic level, the democracy agenda is not abstract at all. It is a determination to defend dissidents rotting in airless prisons, and people awaiting execution for adultery or homosexuality, and religious prisoners kept in shipping containers in the desert, and men and women abused and tortured in reeducation camps. It demands activism against sexual slavery, against honor killings, against genital mutilation and against the execution of children, out of the admittedly philosophic conviction that human beings are created in God’s image and should not be oppressed or mutilated.

And the democracy agenda goes a step further. It argues that the most basic human rights will remain insecure as long as they are a gift or concession of the state — that natural rights must ultimately be protected by self-government. And this ideology asserts that most people in all places, even the poor and oppressed, are capable of controlling their own affairs and determining their own rulers. If this abstract argument seems familiar, it should, because it is the argument of the American founding.

Read the whole thing.

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