Monday, September 12, 2005

National Greatness

I've written in an earlier post about blogger Arthur Silber who is ill, broke, and frustrated with blogging. He has stopped blogging and is closing down his site.

At the end of his final post he said this:
THE FINAL STRAW: I was very bitterly amused this evening to see that Matthew Yglesias and Atrios are wrestling with the “national greatness” issue, and from whence it arises. Of course, I’ve written about this at length, in two of what I think are my very best essays—here and, in even more detail, here [links not included cause it's going dark, but I have the me if you want them].
The "national greatness" issue to which he refers:
In February a “national greatness” colloquium was held in Washington, well-attended by journalists, think-tankers, assorted middlemen, and others prepared only to identify themselves as “consultants.” This colloquium followed from the founding documents of the "movement,” last year’s essays by Bob Kagan and William Kristol in Foreign Affairs, and David Brooks in The Weekly Standard.
In practice, it's become a neocon concept of pursuing a foreign policy that is based on ideology. And that ideology stipulates that as a great nation, we are obligated to spread democracy and freedom to those nations (Iraq) who don't enjoy freedom......whether they want it or not.

I read the Atrios and Matt Yglesias articles and found myself somewhat confused at the snarky comment by Silber. Why the bitterness toward two fellow progressive bloggers?

After some thought, I think I know. In Arthur's articles, he describes the underpinnings of the national greatness movement amongst the neocons as a fundamental personality flaw. He postulates that throughout history, those who have "had the answer" or "know better" typically don't, and they are often driven by a lack of a central core of "self". More precisely, those neocons driven to obscene policy implementation resulting in death and destruction, do so because they are not whole individuals. He sees them as seeking a sense of fulfillment outside themselves and through their achievements "for the good of others". I'm, of course, doing an injustice to Arthur with this thumbnail sketch, but I think he'd agree that leaders don't set out to do evil. The evil is an outgrowth of a distorted sense of purpose that arises from an incomplete self-image.

In that light, Silber's somewhat condescending criticism of Black and Yglesias is right on. Both of those references are notoriously light on insight and heavy on wonkiness (you can read them for youself by clicking the above links). In fact, I find Yglesias article something just short of gobbledygook. Silber seems to be stating the old saying, "I buy them books, and buy them books, and they eat the covers".

Interestingly, later in the week, Atrios: (Duncan Black) had this further to say about the whole "National Greatness" issue:
It's imagining that if only your favorite football team wins, you'll feel good. You will, probably, for a day or two but that's about it. You'd get a lot more satisfcation out of joining the local flag football league and winning your own championship.
I've got to wonder if Duncan read Arthur's comment and was putting some meat on the bones of his previous comment. Who knows.

Either way, I highlight this interchange because I don't think you can underestimate the importance of what Arthur had to say. Indeed, much tyranny, murder, war and other crimes against humanity occurs simply because of leaders who are mentally, emotionally unhealthy. To misunderstand this and attribute evil to superfulous causes is a big mistake in my estimation.


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