Neoconservatism

What Maisky Knew

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In the November 21 issue of The Weekly Standard, I have reviewed The Maisky Diaries, edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky. This fine volume covers the personal writings of Ivan Maisky, Soviet ambassador to the United Kingdom during the critical period of 1932 to 1943. Here’s a bit of my judgment of the man:

In the 1930s, British foreign policy was still a matter of balancing the continental powers, particularly France and Germany; and if we avoid the arrogance that hindsight can bring, we should also remember that Neville Chamberlain genuinely thought he was securing a course for peace in Europe. Britain knew how weak its armed forces were—its army, especially—and this knowledge, as Lloyd George told Maisky, was doubtless a factor in Chamberlain’s “deal” with Hitler at Munich.

Maisky, however, had nothing but contempt for such calculations, coming across at certain times here as a kind of thirties neoconservative. Indeed, it’s hard at times to discern that Maisky was a Communist at all, or that he represented a brutal, totalitarian government. His comportment in these pages is measured; his language free of cant. Even his looks—the well-fed, portly body, the kindly eyes, the authentic smile—will strike the reader as very different from the dour, self-defensive faces of that era’s most prominent Soviets.

Read the whole thing here.

Conservatives Conserving Failure

Sometimes I watch The Five on Fox News. Oddly, the one who raises my blood pressure the most is not the orthodox liberal Juan Williams — there is a soothing predictability to Juan that forces me to like him — but the nominal conservative Dana Perino.

Perino doesn’t seem to grasp the enormity of what’s unfolding before us in the forms of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. She strikes me as one of those people who think this election season a mere glitch — a short circuit that the dirty, uneducated lower classes have caused in a system that is otherwise functional.

Actually, that might be the strongest sense in which Perino is a conservative: she thinks that once November 8, 2016, comes and goes, the Republican Party can go back to doing business the way it did before Trump descended the escalator at his eponymous tower last year. (more…)

Yes, America should come first in its foreign policy

If Twitter is useful for one thing, it’s keeping your finger on the dying pulse of American intellectual debate. There was a point in the most recent Republican debate — was it the 42nd or 43rd such event? — when Ted Cruz mentioned that he wanted an “America-first foreign policy.” I’m late commenting about this, but it’s amazing what’s controversial these days: Cruz’s critics seized on the remark as evidence of some alleged “isolationism.” Their trick was to link Cruz to the America First Committee of the early 1940s, designed to keep the United States out of the Second World War and backed by genuine isolationists like Charles Lindbergh.

Of course, anyone who pays attention to what his opponents actually say, as opposed to what he wants them to have said so he can wage reputational warfare on them, knows that this is not what Cruz or his like-minded contemporaries believe. (more…)

Free to Choose?

In my latest piece for The Weekly Standard, I review David Boaz’s book The Libertarian Mind, which, though brilliant and well written, unintentionally reveals why libertarianism does not command broader support:

Arguing that libertarianism has become increasingly popular, Boaz cites the declining support for central economic planning. He does not acknowledge (or, perhaps, does not realize) that socialism has pivoted from economics to culture. Most radical leftists these days don’t care about nationalizing heavy industry; they are concerned mainly with putting traditional Western culture through a kind of Maoist struggle session. Since the libertarian theory of freedom is highly rationalist, based on axioms and syllogisms, its proponents are at a disadvantage against such irrational and illogical attacks.

That’s why culture, often deftly avoided by free market thinkers, is so important to sustaining political liberty. Libertarians ignore just how much their philosophy derives from (and depends on) Western culture; thus they ignore how shifts in that culture affect the reception and survival of libertarian ideas. They tend to think that since libertarianism is logical and internally consistent, everyone will eventually accept it​—​a very Whiggish, and very dangerous, belief.

Read the whole thing here.