I Hate Cold War Liberalism

Peter Beinart wants to resuscitate cold-war liberalism and would like to claim George Kennan as one of its paragons. Kennan was no movement conservative — and thank God — but he wasn't exactly a cold-war liberal, either. The actual paradigmatic cold-war liberals, in addition to the Americans for Democratic Action that Beinart names, were men like Lyndon Baines Johnson and Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson. We don't need anybody to resurrect their foreign policy, it's still with us. It's called neoconservatism. As Michael Lind wrote two years back:

Neoconservatism–the term was Michael Harrington's–originated in the 1970s as a movement of anti-Soviet liberals and social democrats in the tradition of Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Humphrey and Henry ("Scoop") Jackson, many of whom preferred to call themselves "paleoliberals." While there was a pro-Israel wing, the movement's focus was on confrontation with the Soviet bloc abroad and on the defense of New Deal liberalism and color-blind liberal integrationism against rivals on the left at home. With the end of the cold war and the ascendancy of the Democratic Leadership Council, many "paleoliberals" drifted back to the Democratic center. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, once spoken of as a possible neoconservative presidential candidate, broke with the movement in the 1980s over its growing contempt for international law and its exaggeration of the Soviet threat. Today's neocons are a shrunken remnant of the original broad neocon coalition.

Nevertheless, the origins of their ideology on the left are still apparent. The fact that most of the younger neocons were never on the left is irrelevant; they are the intellectual (and, in the case of William Kristol and John Podhoretz, the literal) heirs of older ex-leftists. The idea that the United States and similar societies are dominated by a decadent, postbourgeois "new class" was developed by thinkers in the Trotskyist tradition like James Burnham and Max Schachtman, who influenced an older generation of neocons. The concept of the "global democratic revolution" has its origins in the Trotskyist Fourth International's vision of permanent revolution. The economic determinist idea that liberal democracy is an epiphenomenon of capitalism, promoted by neocons like Michael Novak, is simply Marxism with entrepreneurs substituted for proletarians as the heroic subjects of history.

Beinart, of course, supported the Iraq War at the start, though now that supporting the war is no longer quite so easy he has changed his tune. His talk of a new cold-war liberalism is a face-saving measure, a way for him to continue to advance interventionism and militarism — albeit of a multilateral sort — without having to take any blame for the failure of Bush's (and Beinart's) war. I expect we're going to see a parallel phenomenon on the right rather soon, perhaps taking up the absurdist banner of Francis Fukuyama's "realistic Wilsonianism." (Or, come to think of it, whatever the origins of the next grand foreign-policy non-strategy that arises on the right, it'll probably just be called "Reaganism" — it usually is.)


5 thoughts on “I Hate Cold War Liberalism

  1. Charley May 1, 2006 / 1:42 pm

    I just finished reading Beinart’s article in the NY Times magazine and was also appalled at the obvious logical flaws. He thinks the Democrats need to go back to cold-war “liberalism” as their historical vision for US foreign policy and pretty much fails to mention that those policies met their inevitable and ignominious end in the rice paddies of Vietnam.

    Buried in Beinart’s “analysis” is a reference to a Democrat who perhaps can provide a historical reference point for a new Democratic US foreign policy – Henry A. Wallace. Here’s Wallace in his speech Century of the Common Man during WWII: “…when the time of peace comes, The citizen will again have a duty, the supreme duty of sacrificing the lesser interest for the greater interest of the general welfare. Those who write the peace must think of the whole world. There can be no privileged peoples. We ourselves in the United States are no more a master race than the Nazis. And we can not perpetuate economic warfare without planting the seeds of military warfare. We must use our power at the peace table to build an economic peace that is just, charitable and enduring.”

  2. Maximos May 1, 2006 / 7:57 pm

    Good God, that’s awful. May God save us form whatever metasticization of liberalism they’re cooking up.

  3. Jason May 1, 2006 / 11:10 pm

    I didn’t read the story, but Beinart is beginning to sound like a broken record. Apparently, he is of the belief that if you just keep repeating a moronic idea that nobody really likes then it will catch on.

  4. R J Stove May 2, 2006 / 3:12 am

    Now, thanks to Daniel McCarthy’s Wikipedia link, I know why Scoop Jackson was called Scoop. I’d wondered about this for years.

  5. Gotham Image May 11, 2006 / 1:17 pm

    Beinart means well. That’s all that counts.

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