November 01, 2004

Why Neocons make bad Marxists

I'm reading up on this whole "neo-con schism" soap opera pretty late in the game, but this paragraph from Danny Postel's account struck me:
Krauthammer’s [neoconservative] logic, Fukuyama argues, is “utterly unrealistic in its overestimation of U.S. power and our ability to control events around the world.” “Of all of the different views that have now come to be associated with neoconservatives, the strangest one to me was the confidence that the United States could transform Iraq into a Western–style democracy,” he wrote, “and to go on from there to democratize the broader Middle East.”

This struck Fukuyama as strange, he explained, “precisely because these same neoconservatives had spent much of the past generation warning … about the dangers of ambitious social engineering, and how social planners could never control behavior or deal with unanticipated consequences.” If the US can’t eradicate poverty at home or improve its own education system, he asked, “how does it expect to bring democracy to a part of the world that has stubbornly resisted it and is virulently anti–American to boot?”
Indeed, it's a silly contradiction for neoconservatives to reject social engineering at home while aggressively pushing for it abroad. But this contradiction also helps explain why neoconservatives are so bad at nation-building. If you distrust social engineering, you're not likely to be any good at it. If you don't spend much time worrying about how to promote employment at home, you just won't have the capacity for doing it abroad, and you'll tend to distrust experts on development. And so on. One of the points I tried to make in this piece was that the Bush administration's push for rapid privatization in Iraq was starkly at odds with the country's actually needs. But of course, this was all of a piece with what conservatives—and neoconservatives in particular—have tried at home: implement privatization, de-regulation, price stability, low taxes, and expect everything else to fall into place. They can get away with this in the U.S. because our economy is resilient, and can take a lot of abuse (it's held up pretty well over the last four years, all things considered). But it's a lot more difficult to throw caution to the supply-side winds in a fragile, post-war economy.

Liberal policymakers, for all their failings, tend to understand that things like full employment or democratic institutions can be engineered, but it takes time and effort. That's why I tend to think that a politician like John Kerry, who has for instance spent a good deal of time thinking about how to negotiate the various forces involved in the health insurance industry, will be naturally more prone to puzzling through the gritty details of institution-building.
-- Brad Plumer 8:20 AM || ||